An Enemy of the People Study Guide

An Enemy of the People Study Guide

Original title:
En folkefiende

The bitter and satirical play of Henrik Ibsen was, to the great extent, his answer to the reaction of the critics to his previous work, “Ghosts”. The play was named scandalous, because the author dared to discuss such problems as adultery and syphilis that was too much for the prudish a society of that time. As a result, Henrik Ibsen dedicated his play to the problem of a person willing to tell the truth that no one wants to hear. His main character is a doctor and a researcher, who is praised and respected by his native town and its authorities… until he makes a discovery that can save countless lives, but only by ruining the reputation and the economy of the town completely.

The author himself hesitated a lot about whether his play is a comedy or a tragedy - but for the modern society of post-truth, where the reality often doesn’t matter in comparison to the image and reputation, there is much less funny in it. Dr. Stockmann is an idealist, who dedicated years of his life to his research and doesn’t want to step back and keep silent while people will suffer and die. He believes that the townsfolk will share his ideals and support him - but suddenly realizes that the people around are much more worried about their own prosperity and good public image of the town than about the wellbeing of some stranger people.

There are no good and bad characters in the play: each one of them can be understood and the audience can relate to the both sides. Dr. Stockmann can’t understand the majority of the town, because he is ready to sacrifice his own life and expects from the others to do the same. But the average people start to see him as a dangerous madman and everything becomes worse when the political issues get involved.

Each play of Henrik Ibsen is brilliant by itself, but this one is especially important in the modern times. The eternal question of the conflict passionaries and simple people nowadays is very acute. The author clearly shows the possible results of such a conflict giving us all the hard lesson about the importance of mutual understanding.

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