Conflict appears in many different shapes and forms, internal and external, small and large scale, but all force characters to make difficult decisions. Henrik Ibsen’s play, An Enemy of the People, focuses on the internal conflict of Dr. Thomas Stockmann as he chooses between crippling his town’s economy and preserving his moral integrity.
Through the process of Dr. Stockmann’s choice as well as his eventual decision, Ibsen asserts that sometimes, one man must take a stand against corruption and evil in order to retain his morality. Upon receiving word that his town’s healing springs “is a pesthole,” Dr. Thomas Stockmann immediately sends word to his brother, the mayor of the town, hoping to fix the problem as soon as possible (Miller 34).
Dr. Stockmann does as any well-mannered and righteous human being would do by trying to save the health of those around him. He sees that rebuilding the springs in a different location is the only way to permanently solve the problem, and gives no thought to any potential consequences for the town. However, when the mayor visits, Dr. Stockmann finds out that the replacement project would cost “at least three hundred thousand crowns,” and take about “two years” to complete (52).
The mayor also warns that he may be “dismissed from the Institute” if he reveals his findings to the public (58). This initiates the conflict within the Doctor, for he must choose between his conscience and the wellbeing of not only himself, but also his family. After Dr. Stockmann releases his statements, his father-in-law informs him that he has invested Mrs. Stockmann’s inheritance in the springs and it will be a waste if the Doctor does not recant his statements about the springs and bring the stock price back up.
Dr. Stockmann now realizes that he will be dooming his family to poverty if he stands by his discoveries, but he still chooses to do so. He recognizes and acknowledges the potential threats, but he knows that what he is doing is right, so he carries on through the storm. At the end of the play, Dr. Stockmann says that “[he is] fighting for the truth, and that’s why [he is] alone. And that makes [him] strong. ” (124-5).
This quote summarizes the theme of the story very well, showing that he knows that he is alone in his fight against the corruption of the powerful government that rules his society. Nevertheless, he continues to fight for what is right, demonstrating Ibsen’s belief that a man must stand up for what is right, even in the face of adversity and opposition, for that is his duty as a morally sound human being. Henrik Ibsen uses An Enemy of the People to not only speak out against the corruption of the powerful, but also speak up for the rights of the minority, especially when they are on the side of truth and justice.
He is encouraging his audience to defend what is right in order to defeat corruption and slay the beast that is tarnishing both the government and the citizens. Wherever there is immorality or injustice in the world, Ibsen calls on those with a good mind to speak out in favor of righteousness and defend their morals to the bitter end.