Search Menu




Henrik Ibsen was one of the world's greatest dramatists. He was the leading figure of an artistic renaissance that took place in Norway at the end of the nineteenth century, a renaissance that also included the painter Edvard Munch. Ibsen lived from 1828 to 1906. He grew up in poverty, studied medicine for a while, then abandoned that to write plays. In 1858, he published his first play, The Vikings at Helgeland. That same year, he married Susannah Thoresen, the daughter of a pastor.

Ibsen obtained a scholarship to travel to Italy, where he wrote the plays that would establish his reputation, Brand and Peer Gynt. These were long, historical verse plays. He lived most of the rest of his life in Italy and Germany. Starting in 1869, he began to write prose plays. Some critics would say that at this point in his life, Ibsen abandoned poetry and took up realism. In 1877, he began what became a series of five plays in which he examines the moral faults of modern society. In order of appearance, the plays were The Pillars of Society, A Doll's House, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People, and The Wild Duck.

An Enemy of the People attacks the institution of the liberal newspaper. Like all of the plays in this series, An Enemy of the People deals with the extent to which individual desires and beliefs are compromised by society. In particular, the play focuses on the ways in which an individual can be ostracized by the society he is trying to help. The problems of the play's hero, Dr. Stockmann, are not far removed from the problems Ibsen experienced after the publication of Ghosts. In a letter written around the time of the play's composition, Ibsen noted: "Dr. Stockmann and I got on excellently together; we agree on so many subjects."

Like all of Ibsen's plays, An Enemy of the People was originally written in Norwegian and is full of untranslatable wordplay. Specifically, a number of the character's titles exists only in Norwegian bureaucracy. For the sake of clarity, in this SparkNote, Peter Stockmann is referred to as the mayor, Morten Kiil is Mrs. Stockmann's adoptive father, and Hovstad is editor of the People's Herald.

More Help

Previous Next
my notes... important

by SHEKOOFEH493, September 04, 2012

• The term “freethinking” is used often in the play… almost every characters except the mayor and Aslaksan are freethinkers.
• It is not Ibsen’s intent to create a play of food vs. Evil.
• The play is written in the late 19th century
• The play in many ways is about the extent to which the individual innocence can survive in modern society
• In 3rd act we see that the newspaper men are against him.
• Hovstad is not a reliable character, his support is for his attraction to Petra
• The... Read more


108 out of 131 people found this helpful


by oksana2411, May 16, 2014

I hate bullies


1 out of 5 people found this helpful


by MasondedeJohn, February 09, 2017

You really need to spend some quality time on this site -