Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen
An Enemy of the People is the story of a middle aged doctor in a small town. The doctor works with the town leadership to establish a local Bath (basically, a hot springs, where sickly people come to get better). After some suspicious illnesses and conclusive tests the doctor realizes that the baths are actually poisoned by chemicals from a local tannery. The towns financial stability has come to depend on the baths, and the money they would need to spend in order to correct the problem would be a very large sum. The rest of the play consists of the reactions of each of the different social structures to the news, and the different ways each group tries to either spin the story, cover it up, or benefit from it. The social structures are represented in different characters: There is the media, the leadership, the armed services, the home-owners, the educators, the family, and even the local drunk. Each of the characters has many different layers, as is evidenced by the main character, Dr. Stockmann. You both love Dr. Stockmann for his passion and devotion to change and hate him because of his obvious prejudices against others, especially those who are uneducated or "beneath" him.
One of the most provocative things about the play is the way that Ibsen takes each of the individuals' negative and positive characteristics and drives them to the extreme. In this way you are able to see both the positive influence that they have and the negative. The only character who seems to be protected from this tactic is Captain Horster, which gives an interesting insight on what Ibsen's opinion of the armed services must have been.
Probably one of the most chilling phrases Ibsen uses is when Dr. Stockmann says "What does the destruction of a community matter, if it lives on lies!" Doesn't that make you cringe in fear for our own community and country, with so many allegations of fraud and deception? What would the destruction of our society matter, if all we stand for are lies?