Enemy Of The People Essay Topics

  • 1

    What are the structure and tone of the play?

    The structure of the play is very straightforward. The issue –that of the Springs being toxic and Stockmann's possession of that knowledge –is established right away. Only a few "events" happen afterwards; the play is mostly conversations. The plot is flimsy. Ibsen's tone, established through the characters, is polemical and ironic, with a touch of satire.  


  • 2

    What role does Petra play?

    Petra is an interesting character because she is perhaps the only character who is as radical as Stockmann and thus supports his perspectives and views, but she also has a lot less at stake and is thus not exactly the best example of self-sacrifice. Even Peter notes that she is young and radicalism is the provenance of the young; he seems apt to dismiss her views and not become offended by them in the same way that Stockmann’s views offend him. She does not have a family to support and will not feel the pressure of her other duties bearing down on her. Her commitment to the town is not as deeply engrained as her father’s. This is not to say we should not admire her efforts and her vociferous support of her father, but Stockmann is still the main hero of the text, as he loses so much to stand up to the town’s ignorance and hysteria. Finally, Petra also is part of the Ibsen tradition of strong female characters who deviate from norms regarding behavior and expectations.

  • 3

    What is Ibsen's message in this play?

    Ibsen wants to impart to his readers that standing up for truth and justice can be very difficult and one may even lose most of the things they treasure. He reveals how little glory there is in remaining true to one’s principles, and that one will face an array of obstacles. Those obstacles may even include family, friends, and former connections. Ibsen favors Stockmann and suggests he is right, but does so almost grudgingly, as a keen reading of his text reveals that heroes are not blameless (Stockmann has character traits that limit his likeability), and the issue of where duty lies is more complex than usually assumed (Stockman very well could decide to focus on his family, and would not be wholly off base for doing that). Finally, his message includes the reality that the majority is more dangerous than the minority when they are ignorant and propelled by self-interest.  

  • 4

    What did Arthur Miller's changes to the play entail?

    Arthur Miller was attracted to the play because he felt that it resonated with his own time; it spoke to the same tyranny of the majority that America faced in the 1950s when hysterical anti-communism ruled the day. Thus, he adapted the play and staged it, but with a few crucial change. He modernized the language a bit through the help of his translator, he condensed five acts to three, and he rid of some of Stockmann's more controversial language in which he has more critical things to say about the masses. He wanted the play to stay true to the idea that Stockmann was an obvious hero/martyr, and did not want to complicate his character for his readers.

  • 5

    What is Ibsen's message about family?

    On the one hand, family is celebrated for remaining true to each other and supporting each other during hard times; Catherine and Petra both stick by Stockmann regardless of how bad it gets for them. On the other hand, family does not always translate to loyalty. Kiil and Peter are both happy to throw their son-in-law and brother, respectively, under the bus. They do not care that they are related by blood or marriage; their own reputations are far more important to them. Ibsen keenly notes that family is no guarantee of camaraderie, especially in light of reputation and power. 

  • 6

    What are the problems with democracy found in the play?

    It is not correct to claim that Ibsen does not like democracy, but it would be fair to note the shortcomings democracy may possess. In this play the people are given the power, but they are people who are ignorant and quick to hysteria and condemnation. They are easily manipulated by authority figures who capitalize on that ignorance and sway the people to support something they perhaps wouldn't naturally support. Thus, everything that happens to Stockmann happens in an above-board manner because the people are making the decisions, but it is clear that this democracy is very, very flawed.

  • 7

    Is Stockmann a hero or a fool?

    The answer to this question can vary, of course, depending on one's interpretation. There are some who would claim he is a fool, as he stubbornly adheres to his truth, refuses to compromise, and loses almost everything he cherishes as a result. His family will suffer, as will others around him. However, Stockmann could also be perceived as a hero because he is strong and courageous enough to stick to what he knows is right even amidst this adversity. He gives up worldly trappings to uphold truth. He may not be living an ideal life right now, but it is implied that one day he will be vindicated for his actions. Thus, there are elements of both the hero and the fool in Stockmann.

  • 8

    What are the conflicting duties of the characters?

    It is not always clear what the characters should do, and their various duties often contradict each other. Stockmann is the best exemplar of a character whose various duties are in conflict with one another. He feels the strongest sense of duty to telling and upholding the truth, especially as it relates to his progression as a doctor. However, he also has his family, and Catherine notes that he has a duty to keep them from falling back into poverty. Finally, as Peter informs him, he also has a duty to his town; he should consider the financial straits that the people would experience. Stockmann adheres to the first duty and largely ignores the second two, but clearly the character's situation is far from ideal.

  • 9

    What is the significance of Stockmann's speech at the lecture?

    Stockmann's speech at the lecture is the closest he comes to speaking the truth about how he feels about the people and what is happening to him. He certainly does not shy away from being honest and angry with Peter and the newspapermen, but his tone becomes derisive and hostile with the people. He criticizes them, in some words, for being ignorant and useless and failing to live up to the promise of the species. He is not content to let them off the hook for their behavior. Part of his speech, especially the tone, is indicative of his frustration, but his actual words are not too far off from the truth.

  • 10

    What do the allusions to Stockmann's past mean for the contemporary events of the story?

    There is very little actually known about Stockmann's past, but it appears he was in the North for a time and experienced poverty. Catherine alludes to the difficulty of those years, and Peter talks about how he helped Stockmann out. Stockmann, though, refers to this time with pleasure and nostalgia, touting it as a time of purity and resolve. His interpretation of events is a manifestation of his innate tendency to only see things from a certain light -usually a more positive light -and ignore some of the actual duress of the situation. It is telling that Stockmann thinks of the time fondly and Catherine does not, for the contemporary events are quite similiar.

  • A lot of people believe that Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen penned An Enemy of the People with a big old chip on his shoulder. He wrote the play directly after Ghosts, which got all kinds of nasty criticism in the papers for its talk of taboo subjects like syphilis and assisted suicide. Dr. Stockmann, the protagonist of An Enemy of the People, harshly criticizes just the sort of liberal media that had talked smack about Ghosts. Chances are this isn't just a random coincidence.

    We know from a series of letters that many of the ideas spouted by Dr. Stockmann, were very close to Ibsen's own opinions. In a letter to his editor upon completing his manuscript, Ibsen wrote that he felt "lost and lonely" now that he had completed the script, because he and Dr. Stockmann had "got on excellently" and "agree[d] on so many subjects." Ibsen went on the say that Doctor has "characteristics because of which people will stand hearing a good many things from him which they might perhaps not have taken in such very good part had they been said by me" (source). The evidence seems to be pointing to the fact that the Ibsen saw Stockmann as a mouthpiece of sorts, a more likeable alter ego who people were more likely to listen to.

    Even though it is widely believed that An Enemy of the People was inspired by the negative critical reactions to Ghosts, it's also pretty clear that the core ideas of the play were in Ibsen's mind for a long time. Shortly after he published his earlier play A Doll's House, Ibsen wrote to a Professor buddy of his, "It appears to me doubtful whether better artistic conditions can be attained in Norway before the intellectual soil has been thoroughly turned up and cleansed, and all the swamps drained off" (source). This happens to be the very same sort of conclusion that Dr. Stockmann comes to at the end of An Enemy of the People and is also the play's central metaphor. It looks like the ideas that erupt on the stage in An Enemy of the People had been burning inside of Ibsen for quite some time.

    Have you ever felt that everyone around you is completely absurd? Have you ever thought that perhaps you were the only reasonable or intelligent person left in the whole world? If so, you might get along well with Dr. Stockmann, the hero of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People. When the people in Dr. Stockmann's town all turn against him for trying to reveal the truth of their polluted water, the Doctor goes on the warpath.

    Dr. Stockmann comes to realize that the real pollution around him isn't necessarily the bacteria-ridden water; instead it's the ignorant masses. His basic argument is that the majority of people are too foolish to know what's best for them, therefore majority rule is an inherently foolish system. Wait a minute…isn't the rule of the majority kind of the foundation of democracy? Whoever and whatever gets the most votes wins, right?

    The Doctor says that society ought to be ruled by the intellectually superior (like himself). In his opinion the people who are the smartest might just be in a position to make the best decisions. What do you think? Is this a reasonable argument or an elitist opinion? Whatever you think, it's still pretty edgy. Read on to see if you agree.

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