Critical Essay Structure and Technique in An Enemy of the People


As with most problem plays, An Enemy of the People takes a specific situation and uses it to make a larger general statement about mankind. Here we have the specific problem of the bad water pipes at the new health baths. The question then is simply one of cleaning the baths. It is a matter of civic health and sanitation. From this specific situation, Ibsen then moves to the more complex problem of private versus public morality. Or to state it in other words, Ibsen is investigating the relationship between moral and ethical responsibility when seen against practical exigency.

To present this problem, Ibsen creates an idealist in the person of Dr. Stockmann and has him diametrically opposed by his own brother who is the man of extreme practicality. In other words, Dr. Stockmann represents private and public morality while his brother, the Burgomaster, represents the practical aspect of life.

The problem which perplexes many readers of this play is Ibsen's apparent failure to make his position clear. But this was not Ibsen's purpose. He is not offering a stated solution to his problem, but instead, he is presenting a full measured discussion of the problem. The sensible man would assume a position somewhere between that of Dr. Stockmann and the Burgomaster. In his idealism, Dr. Stockmann forgets that the world moves by practical means. It is revealed early in the play that Dr. Stockmann conceived the idea of the baths but could never bring them to a practical completion. It took the Burgomaster to do that. Thus, Dr. Stockmann is seen essentially as a comic figure whose idealism blinds him to the commonplace practicality of the world. But the Burgomaster is equally as blinded to the ethical questions of the world.

Therefore, after a thorough consideration of the ideas, the reader should take a stand somewhere between the two extremes represented by the main characters.

Back to Top