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MonkeyNotes-An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen
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THEMES

In An Enemy of the People, Ibsen vividly portrays the negative aspects of small-town politics where the majority of citizens are easily swayed by the controlling bureaucrats, who are often corrupt and self-serving. In contrast, he unifies the play by praising the responsibility and courage of Dr. Stockmann.

In the play Ibsen clearly criticizes the "compact majority," who often act foolishly in refusing to accept the truth and in blindly following their elected leaders. In contrast to the ordinary citizen, the doctor has the courage to stand up to the authorities. As a result, Ibsen uses Dr. Stockmann to voice many of his own opinions in the play. He portrays the doctor as a noble reformer who dares to fight rather than compromise his principles. In fact, Ibsen calls Stockmann the strongest man in the world for he stands alone to fight his battle with the authorities, never budging in his beliefs, his correctness of purpose, or his self-assurance.

Although An Enemy of the People is replete with sarcastic remarks about the compact majority, Ibsen is not attacking the concept of democracy. Instead, he levels his criticism upon the unscrupulous leaders and their naïve followers. Because they have vested interests and secret agendas, the bureaucrats mislead and misguide the public in order to get what they want and to stay in power. Ibsen shows how such leaders make a mockery of democracy. Stockmann appropriately refers to them as a social pestilence.


Ibsen also regards people who advocate moderation as a way of life as social pests. He knows that moderation is meaningless when drastic measures are required to root out the evil that is corroding the society. Aslaksen is the symbol of moderation; he wants to please all the people all the time. As a result, he is fearful to take any stand, living on hypocrisy and lies. As Dr. Stockmann bluntly states, "I would rather ruin my native town than see it flourishing upon a lie." He even suggests that all persons who live upon a lie ought to be exterminated like vermin.

In the play and in life, Ibsen values the truth above everything. Dr. Stockmann is determined that the truth about the baths prevail in order to preserve the health and honor of the community. He states that suppression of truth is a "fraud, a lie, an absolute crime against the public, against society as a whole!" This is the key theme of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People.

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