“What happens when the truth conflicts with the will of the majority?”
That is the question that is asked in Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.
The story surrounds Dr. Thomas Stockmann, a well-known figure in a small town of Norway, who discovers that waste products from the town’s tannery are poisoning the water, which is causing serious illnesses amongst the citizens and tourists.
This discovery plagues Stockmann’s conscience because he and the town, including his brother, Mayor Peter Stockmann, have invested a large amount of public and private funds into the development of the town’s baths.
Everyone is expecting to prosper because of the projected boost in tourism and wealth from the new baths, but, nonetheless, Stockmann sends a detailed report to the Mayor, which composes of a solution that will cost a considerable sum to the town.
The authorities ignore the report and, after a town meeting, the townspeople, including Stockmann’s friends and family, do not believe his assertions.
Stockmann denounces the majority and provides two memorable quotes:
“You are fighting for the truth, and that’s why you’re alone,” said Stockmann. “And that makes you strong. We’re the strongest people in the world... and the strong must learn to be lonely.”
“A minority may be right; a majority is always wrong.”
Characters & Adaptation
The play was written in 1882 and was created as a response to the public discourse over Ibsen’s play “Ghosts.” The play was later adapted in 1950 by renowned American playwright Arthur Miller.
It was also adapted as a motion picture in 1978. The film was directed by George Schaefer and starred Steve McQueen (Dr. Stockmann), Bibi Anderson (Mrs. Stockmann) and Charles Durning (Mayor).
The major characters in the play are as followed:
- Dr. Thomas Stockmann
- Mrs. Stockmann (wife)
- Peter Stockmann (brother & mayor)
- Petra (daughter)
- Ejlif (son)
- Morten (son)
- Morten Kiil
- Captain Horster
The play also consisted of various townspeople who are students, women and men that work in various fields.
Henrik Ibsen was born on March 20, 1828 in Stockmannsgerden, Norway. Ibsen, a playwright, theatre director and dramatist, has been labelled as the founder of modernism and the father of modern drama.
Ibsen questions the issues of morality, the conditions of human life and contemporary society in his plays.
He died on May 23, 1906 in his home in Oslo, Norway after suffering a series of strokes. Ibsen uttered his last words: “Tvertimod” (On the contrary).