- Paperback: 128 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (November 17, 1977)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780140481402
- ISBN-13: 978-0140481402
- ASIN: 0140481400
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.3 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 104 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #183,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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An Enemy of the People (Penguin Plays) Paperback – November 17, 1977
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-John Guare, from the Introduction
"Miller has released the anger and scorn of the father of realism."
-Brooks Atkinson, The New York Times
Text: English, Norwegian (translation)
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However, this translation is not great. It often reads like a transliteration, with clunky turns of phrase that may be more precise matches to the original Norwegian but don't sound at all natural in English. The result is that much of the dialogue in this translation feels overly formal and stilted, not the dynamic and vigorous discussions that I suspect were intended.
So many people have been returning to Orwell's 1984, given the current American climate of charges of "fake news" and assertions of "alternative facts" and so on. I would suggest that this play also deserves a second look (or first, if you didn't read it in high school).
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.