You are on page 1of 4

An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen

The future is looking bright in Dr. Stockmann's hometown on the coast of southern Norway. At his urging, the
town has built some Baths, which will bring lots of tourists and more importantly tourist dollars. Trouble arrives
when the Doctor discovers that the water of the Baths is teeming with bacteria, which are guaranteed to make
everybody sick.
At first, several of the town's leading men like Hovstad, the paper's editor, and Aslaksen, the head of the
Householder's Association, support the Doctor and his discovery. However, the Mayor, Dr. Stockmann's brother,
stands firmly against it, because the necessary improvements will cost the town tons of cash and will make him
look like an idiot. The Mayor swiftly turns the entire town against his brother, and Dr. Stockmann finds himself
suddenly in a hostile environment.
Refusing to have the truth be silenced, the Doctor calls a town meeting to read his findings. Once again, though,
he is foiled by his crafty brother; the Mayor manipulates the procedures of the meeting so as to keep the Doctor
from reading the report. Enraged, Dr. Stockmann launches into a tirade on a new "truth" he's discovered. He
announces that the true corruption in the town and the entire country is that all the power lies with the
complacent majority, most of whom are too ignorant to know what's best for them.
The Doctor's impassioned speech only serves to turn the entire town against him. His windows are smashed
with rocks, he loses his job, and his house. In the final act, he is visited by several people who attempt to get
him to retract his words. These corrupt attempts only serve to reinvigorate the Doctor, who determines to start a
school to spread knowledge and truth to the poor. By the end of the play, Dr. Stockmann has found strength in
being alone.
ANALYSIS
Dr. Stockmann makes a discovery that he thinks will help the town. He presses for changes to be made to the
baths, but the town turns on him. Not only have his scientific experiments been a waste of time, and not only will
the townspeople suffer, but his freedom of speech and self-respect are being attacked. He then decides that the
only reason that the leaders have turned on him is that they are afraid of the people. He, thus, lashes out at the
people. He is motivated both by his anger and by true realizations about the corruption of the town.
It can be concluded that An Enemy of the People has two key messages. First, it is a criticism of democracy.
Second, it is the story of how one man's bravery and self-respect can survive overwhelming odds.
Ibsen's critique of democracy is twofold. First, he shows the tyranny of the majority. The majority is a tyrant
insofar as the leaders of society are afraid to do what is right because they are at the people's mercy. Even
though Hovstad wanted to print the doctor's report on the baths, he was afraid to do so because his subscribers
would be upset. The mayor cannot propose any changes to the baths because the public might find out that the
mayor had made a mistake in the original plans and, thus, oust him. The majority is afraid of risk and, according
to the doctor, it is not intelligent enough to do what is right.
While Ibsen illustrates the tyranny of the majority, he also shows how leaders can manipulate the majority. When
Aslaksen and the mayor take control of the town meeting, they are manipulating the majority, using the majority
to their ends. It could be that Hovstad merely cited his subscribers' possible wrath as an excuse because he
himself did not want to print the article. More likely, both he and his subscribers would have been against the
doctor. Those who are in power, like Hovstad and the mayor, automatically guess what the majority will want,
and they always try to please the majority. While Aslaksen and the mayor manipulated the audience at the town
meeting, they influenced them in the only way possible. In other words, it would have been almost impossible for
the mayor to convince the crowd that they should support the doctor's comments about the stupidity of the
masses. Ibsen's idea is that the majority does not rule directly; instead, the idea and threat of the majority keeps
leaders from acting honestly.

The personal story of Dr. Stockmann is secondary. The key thing to remember is that he is extremely idealistic
and maybe even a little naive and foolish. His wife, after all, feels compelled to remind him of practicalities.
THE ORESTEIA TRILOGY
Part I: Agamemnon
Agamemnon begins with a Watchman on duty on the roof of the palace at Argos, waiting for a signal announcing the fall of
Troy to the Greek armies. A beacon flashes, and he joyfully runs to tell the news to Queen Clytemnestra. When he is gone,
the Chorus, made up of the old men of Argos, enters and tells the story of how the Trojan Prince Paris stole Helen, the wife
of the Greek king Menelaus, leading to ten years of war between Greece and Troy. Then the Chorus recalls how
Clytemnestra's husband Agamemnon (Menelaus' brother) sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia to the god Artemis to obtain a
favorable wind for the Greek fleet.
The Queen appears, and the Chorus asks her why she has ordered sacrifices of thanksgiving. She tells them that a system
of beacons has brought word that Troy fell the previous night. The Chorus give thanks to the gods, but wonder if her news is
true; a Herald appears and confirms the tidings, describing the army's sufferings at Troy and giving thanks for a safe
homecoming. Clytemnestra sends him back to Agamemnon, to tell her husband to come swiftly, but before he departs, the
Chorus asks him for news of Menelaus. The Herald replies that a terrible storm seized the Greek fleet on the way home,
leaving Menelaus and many others missing.
The Chorus sings of the terrible destructive power of Helen's beauty. Agamemnon enters, riding in his chariot with
Cassandra, a Trojan Princess whom he has taken as his slave and concubine. Clytemnestra welcomes him, professing her
love, and orders a carpet of purple robes spread in front of him as he enters the palace. Agamemnon acts coldly toward her,
and says that to walk on the carpet would be an act of hubris, or dangerous pride; she badgers him into walking on the
robes, however, and he enters the palace.
The Chorus expresses a sense of foreboding, and Clytemnestra comes outside to order Cassandra inside. The Trojan
Princess is silent, and the Queen leaves her in frustration. Then Cassandra begins to speak, uttering incoherent prophecies
about a curse on the house of Agamemnon. She tells the Chorus that they will see their king dead, says that she will die as
well, and then predicts that an avenger will come. After these bold predictions, she seems resigned to her fate, and enters
the house. The Chorus' fears grow, and they hear Agamemnon cry out in pain from inside. As they debate what to do, the
doors open, and Clytemnestra appears, standing over the corpses of her husband and Cassandra. She declares that she
has killed him to avenge Iphigenia, and then is joined by her lover Aegisthus, Agamemnon's cousin, whose brothers were
cooked and served to Aegisthus' father by Agamemnon's father. They take over the government, and the Chorus declares
that Clytemnestra's son Orestes will return from exile to avenge his father.
Part II: The Libation Bearers
Many years after king Agamemnon's murder at the hands of his wife Clytamnestra and her lover Aigisthos, his son Orestes
returns home with Pylades to mourn at his grave. Orestes has been living in exile and has come back to Argos in secret,
sent by an oracle of Apollo. His mission is to exact vengeance for Agamemnon's death upon his murderers. Apollo has
threatened him with horrible punishments, including leprosy and further exile, if he does not agree to accept this quest.
While standing at Agamemnon's grave, Orestes meets up with his sister Electra, whom he has not seen since he was a
child. There is a protracted recognition scene and then a subsequent joyful reunion. Electra explains that she was sent to the
grave by their mother, Clytamnestra, to bring libations to Agamemnon in the hope she could quiet the source of
Clytamnestra's terrible dreams. Orestes and Electra, encouraged by the chorus, discuss how much they love their father and
hate their mother, and pray together in order to invoke the spirit of Agamemnon to come to their aid in their quest for
vengeance.
Orestes and Electra engage in wishful thinking about how their father could have lived, but the chorus urges them to focus
on the present and to act on their anger. Together, Orestes and Electra plot to avenge Agamemnon's death. With the eager
support of the chorus, Orestes concocts a plan wherein he will gain admittance to the palace and kill Aigisthos on the throne.
Electra and the chorus are complicit, and disappear back into the palace.

Unexpectedly, Clytamnestra comes to the door when Orestes knocks, thus forcing him to fabricate a story about his origins.
He claims to be a stranger bearing sad news of the death of Orestes. Clytamnestra laments, and sends Cilissa, Orestes's
old nurse, to tell Aigisthos to come with his bodyguard to hear the news.
The chorus intervenes, intercepting Clytamnestra's message, and tells Cilissa to compel Aigisthos to come alone, without his
guard. Although she does not understand why the chorus seems so gleeful, since she assumes that Orestes is dead, Cilissa
does as she is told. Aigisthos appears briefly on stage, after which he goes back into the palace to meet Orestes. His death
is announced by his servant, who cries out for Clytamnestra to come and see what's happening.
Alarmed at all the shouting, Clytamnestra appears and immediately realizes that something is horribly wrong. The doors
open, and she sees Orestes over the fallen body of Aigisthos. The climax of the play follows, as Orestes resolves to carry out
his vengeance on his mother. He hesitates at the crucial moment, however, when Clytamnestra bares her breast to him and
implores him to respect their filial bonds.

Pylades steps in at this moment, and reminds Orestes of his duty to Apollo. Orestes regains his resolve and deflects all of
Clytamnestra's pitiful arguments. He stabs her, and the chorus rejoices. He wraps the two bodies in the same shroud in
which Agamemnon was killed, and announces to the world that he has carried out the commands of Justice.
However, now that the deed is finally done, Orestes falls victim to the Furies's retributive violence. He goes mad and flees
the stage in the direction of Delphi, where he will seek refuge at Apollo's shrine. The chorus despairs at the end of the play
that the cycle of bloodshed has not stopped with Orestes's action, but continues ever still.
Part III: Eumendides
Orestes thanks Athene, his speech overflowing with enthusiasm and earnestness. She has saved him, and he knows it. He
promises that Argos will forever be the ally of Athens, and Orestes' spirit will forsake the future people of Argos should they
ever turn against Athens. He exits, to return to his homeland as its new king. Apollo goes with him.
The Furies are outraged by the verdict, saying that the new gods have trampled the old ways. They promise to punish the
land for this decision. Athene reasons with them, pointing out that the ballot was close and that the decision was reached by
a fair trial. She offers them a place under the earth in Athens, to receive offerings from the people. The Furies repeat their
last speech verbatim, voicing their outrage and promising to bring destruction on the land. Athene, unshaken, continues to
reason with them. She reminds them that she alone of the gods knows the location of the keys to Zeus' case of thunderbolts.
She is powerful, and has Zeus behind her, but it need not come to that. Athens is a rich land, and the Furies can have
offerings, too. The Furies do not believe Athene. They do not believe that the people of Athens will be able to treat them with
kindness; they bemoan their fate as outcasts, their ancient rights denied. Athene continues to reason with them: she tells
them that she understands their anger. She also acknowledges that they have a wisdom she lacks because of their great
age. But Athene, too, possess a great wisdom, different from that of the Furies. She tells them that Athens will have a great
future; if the Furies come to Athens as beneficiaries, as great goddesses who preserve peace and do good, protecting the
country from the threat of civil war, then the Furies' days will be rich and beautiful. In response, the Chorus repeats,
verbatim, their expressions of disbelief and anger about their status as outcasts.
Athene patiently continues to tell them about the benefits of accepting her offer. Instead of continuing in the path of hatred
and destruction, Athene offers them peace and position. The Furies ask about the details of Athene's offer, and Athene
responds to every question: they will have a comfortable home, and they will power over the prosperity of men. The Furies
can hardly believe the generosity of the offer. They ask Athene what kind of prayer they should say for the land. Athene
describes, in beautiful language, a city prosperous and blessed. The Furies accept Athene's offer, taking a position by
Athene's side, promising to defend the interests of Athens and praying for the prosperity of the city. Athene establishes the
Furies' authority as the dispensers of prosperity or ruin. Athene and the Eumenides speak in turns, Athene establishing the
Furies' authority and thanking Persuasion for helping her to tame them, while the Furies repeatedly bless the city. The tone
of the Furies' speech changes to one of gentleness; their words are about peace, mercy, and love. Athene orders that the
Furies be brought to their new home, under the earth of Athens. There they will preside over the fortunes of the city, and act

as the city's guardians. A second Chorus forms, made up of the women who serve Athene. They close the play singing of the
harmonious arrangement brought about by their goddess, and they bring the Furies to their new home. Peace will reign
between the Athenians and their new goddesses; it has all come to pass according to the wills of Destiny and Zeus.