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An Enemy of the People Kindle Edition
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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Dr. Thomas Stockmann is a knowledgeable, competent, and basically respected scientist. He is also rather liberal and known as a bit of a non-conformist and rabble-rouser. And he also has a wife and two kids to support. His brother Peter is the mayor of the town, the director of the Institute at which Dr. Stockmann is employed, and decidedly more conservative.
When Dr. Stockmann discovers poison in the town's water supply from a tannery upstream, he expects a hero's reception for saving the town and its major attraction, Kirsten Springs. And indeed, initially he is regarded as a hero, not only by his wife, but also by some allegedly radical newspapermen who vow to publish his findings.
But as it turns out, Mayor Stockmann and other town leaders have vested interests in the findings not being revealed. The repairs to the water supply will cost too much and take too long. Meanwhile, tourism, the town's major business and income source, will dry up.
Inexorably, the forces of moneyed interests begin to encircle Dr. Stockmann and his family. People who initially greeted his discovery with joy and predicted that it would bring down the wealthy bureaucrats begin to turn against him and side with the mayor and the other elites. Dr. Stockmann's position at the Institute is threatened. Townspeople refuse to listen to what he has to say and, indeed, refuse to even do business with him. And his mysterious father-in-law Kiil delivers the final blow by buying up cheap shares of Kirsten Springs in his name, making it look as if Dr. Stockmann set the whole thing up for profit and giving Dr. Stockmann (whose financial prospects are now in tatters) and economic stake in the springs.
In a Faustian bargain reminiscent of Proctor's in "The Crucible", Dr. Stockmann is given the chance to save his job, his "reputation" and his standing in the community if only he will renounce his findings. Will he take the "easy" way out for himself and his family and allow others to suffer when he knows the truth? Or will he stand up for what he believes in, regardless of personal cost.
Thy dynamic set up in "An Enemy of the People" is as valid and common now as it was when Ibsen wrote it and when Miller updated it. The book is an indictment of a society which will throttle its own interests - indeed, even its own life - to adamantly support the interests of the rich and powerful few. It is as relevant for today's working class Tea Partiers as it was for the people of Ibsen's small Norwegian town.
Unfortunately, on a literary level, this play does not live up to its political import. The dialogue is stilted, bombastic and exaggerated. Dr. Stockmann is an unlikeable, sexist, narcissist who, despite his claims to liberalism, can't be bothered to remember his housekeeper's name. His wife is all over the map, at times a strong and stalwart devoted wife, at other times piteously weak, deferential, and basically stupid. Mayor Stockmann is too heavy-handed to be believable. It is subtlety and subterfuge which win the population to support the elite moneyed interest at the expense of their own interests. Too much heavy-handedness gives the game away and risks rousing the common rabble against the elite. The other characters are either flat (Stockmann's children, Horster) or so conflicted and inconsistent that they aren't believable (the newspapermen). Overall, the book simply lacks the finely-tuned sense of character that Miller usually brings to his work.
The play is still very much worth reading, however, if only for the political message alone.
Henrik Ibsen wrote this play immediately after his play Ghosts was greeted by mass outcries (see my review of Ghosts). Rather than defend himself against charges of immorality, he pointed out that the multitude are wrong.
Dr. Stockmann, a stand-in for Ibsen’s views, wants to do the right thing, the moral thing, to tell the truth to the people of his town, a truth that they do not want to hear. He is the medical advisor of the town’s health baths, baths that brings wealth to the community. He discovers that the bath water is contaminated because the town officials, against his advice, set the pipes in a wrong place, and the water flowing through the area is causing bathers to become sick. The cost of repairing the pipes is enormous and it would take two years to fix them. The doctor is stopped from revealing the problem to his community by the Mayor, his older brother, who was interested in his health, but not in the health of others, who insisted that the doctor be silent because the community wants the money that the baths will bring, doesn’t want to pay the large repair costs, and leaving the baths unused for two years would result in a large financial loss to the community.
The town newspaper and the home owners are behind the doctor until the Mayor explains the enormous loss to them. Then, as with Ibsen who described moral problems in Ghosts, the entire town turns against Dr. Stockmann and vilifies him, calling him a lunatic and an enemy of the people. He tries to explain that he is telling the truth, but the town people refuse to see it. The town argues that they are the majority and they determine what is right. This is reminiscent of the Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas, who is not mentioned in the play, who insisted on holding the community and the church above the individual.
Stockmann responds that in matters of right and wrong, the individual is superior to the will of the many. In a memorable line, he says, “A minority may be right; a majority is always wrong.”
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This second sentence is meant to fulfill kindles 16 word more requirement. Almost there. Oh, yeah!