To Be an Individual or to Be with Society in An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen

Categories: Literature

Individual vs. Society; what does An Enemy of the People show? Modern thought tells society to be individual, to be different, and to stand out. An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen debates the question; to be an individual or to be with society? In the play by Ibsen, a forward thinking Doctor finds himself at odds with his conservative brother, who also happens to be the mayor of the town. The two are pinned against each other in a classic tail of doing the right thing versus doing the popular thing.

The protagonist, Dr. Stockman,

believes the majority backs him but as a town meeting reveals the opposite happens to be true.

Riddled with imagery, An Enemy of the people consistently paints a picture of one man standing against many. Ibsen’s use of this specific imagery helps to highlight the conflict between Dr. Stockmann and his brother, and explain that people should stand alone and not with the crowd.

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Ibsen’s portrayal of the mayor in the opening scene immediately displays him as the antagonist and creates a contrast between Dr. Stockmann and the mayor. Dr. Stockmann and the mayor find themselves in the doctor’s residence discussing the finer things in life. “We’ve bought a table-cover” Dr. Stockmann explains, “Yes, so I observed” the mayor returns (Elliot 79). A harsh response to something so simple as appreciating a table-cloth uncovers Ibsen painting the mayor as a hostile character. The mayor’s hostility along with the disagreement between him and doctor display him as the antagonist of the play.

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Amidst the conversation the mayor exclaims “The individual must subordinate himself to society” (80). At this point Ibsen has painted the mayor as an antagonist and given the mayor his own opinion on individual vs. society. Since the mayor is the antagonist, it is likely that Ibsen agrees with the opposite side that he gives the mayor. 

Later on in the play Dr. Stockmann(Ibsen) makes an argument for the opposite side of this question. At a town meeting Dr. Stockmann is being brutally argued against, “No, no, no!” the crowd yells(111). After having enough of the townspeople the doctor angrily proclaims “The majority is never right. Never, I say!” (113). This declaration leads into a rant in which the doctor bashes on the townspeople. “I think we must agree that the fools are in a terrible overwhelming majority” (113). As soon as the doctor is done lashing out at the people he is immediately declared “an enemy of the people” (117). It seems as if the doctor is one man standing against a whole town that is completely against him, Ibsen’s picture in this scene is complex one. On one hand, this is the protagonist doing what he believes is right, but at the same time the town is not moving with him, there is no one on his side. Often literature mirrors the human experience and just as often author’s place their own opinions into their protagonists. With the picture that Ibsen painted during the town meeting, he clearly has reinforced that people should choose to be individuals and stand alone when they must.

Be an individual or stand with society? Well Henrik Ibsen was answering that question long before it became “cool” to be different. In An Enemy of the People, Ibsen uses imagery around both Dr. Stockmann and the mayor to slowly answer the question as each act progressed.

The mayor, being the antagonist, had a conservative mind and was often found with the mindset that people must subordinate themselves to the government. The doctor on the other hand was the protagonist and therefore empathized with Ibsen’s own thoughts. The doctor is constantly found standing by himself, yet he continues in his battle of doing what is right. Amazing, how Henrik Ibsen wrote a book, almost 200 years ago, that still has a very relevant feel and question attached to it.

Cite this page

To Be an Individual or to Be with Society in An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen. (2022, Apr 01). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/to-be-an-individual-or-to-be-with-society-in-an-enemy-of-the-people-by-henrik-ibsen-essay

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