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MonkeyNotes-An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen
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LITERARY/HISTORICAL INFORMATION

In 1881, Ibsen wrote Ghosts, a play that gave rise to considerable controversy, for the public found the drama to be indecent and unpalatable. An Enemy of the People, written in 1882, is often viewed as a reaction to the response to Ghosts; it is a kind of rejoinder to public (or mob) opinion. Ibsen was convinced that the mob could be influenced very easily by demagogues. In An Enemy of the People, characters like the Burgomaster, Hovstad, and Aslaksen exploit mass psychology to the hilt and succeed in having the public judge a good citizen as an enemy of the people.

In several of his plays, Ibsen portrays the politics of small Norwegian towns. In them, he clearly develops his belief that majority rule is seldom honest or correct; additionally, he reveals that the majority can never bring about any radical change in a prevalent social order. In essence, Ibsen shows that politics are demoralizing, in spite of their influence.


Some critics view An Enemy of the People as an attack on democracy; but it must be remembered that Ibsen was not an anarchist, but a law-abiding citizen. He simply believed that representatives of the 'compact majority' are fallible and seldom interested in or capable of make sweeping changes. Ibsen points out in the play that only persons who have the courage to stand alone and adhere to their principles can bring about significant reforms. That message is as relevant today as it was a century ago.

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