An Enemy of the People

by: Henrik Ibsen

Study Questions

Further study Study Questions

Explain the finances of both the paper and the baths.

The paper, the People's Herald, barely stays in business. Aslaksen does not work for the paper, but he owns the printing press that prints the paper. He prints the paper on credit, on the assumption that he will be paid later. Apparently, a good portion of the paper's income comes from subscribers. The baths have been financed by a small group of wealthy men, who are now the stockholders in the company. If rumors get out about the baths being polluted, the stock will become worthless. The shareholders control the baths, but the government also has a vested interest in maintaining the baths, because the baths draw tourists who spend their money in the town and, thus, keep the town's economy afloat. Also, the mayor is not only mayor of the city, he is also chairman of the baths.

How does the term "freethinking" function in An Enemy of the People?

In the first act, Billing, Hovstad, Captain Horster, Petra, and Mrs. Stockmann are talking. All of them seem to be freethinkers, except for Horster, who, to the amazement of the newspapermen, does not care about politics. Petra complains about having to teach lies--which are never specified--in her classes, and Billing and Hovstad eagerly discuss radical political ideas. They begin to discuss paganism, and Mrs. Stockmann makes the younger children leave. Although Mrs. Stockmann agrees with freethinking ideas, she is anxious that her children not be exposed to them. Freethinkers, then, are enlightened members of society who hold ideas that might clash with tradition. The idea of "freethinking" also seems to refer to a set of ideas not rooted in practicality or societal pressure but in pure rational thought. This is a source of frustration to Dr. Stockmann, who sees the extent to which the thoughts of the newspapermen are not free at all.

Why did Ibsen include the character of Captain Horster?

One could say that the character of Horster is a convenience. He is an outsider who gives Dr. Stockmann a place to speak when no one else will. But Ibsen includes Horster in both the opening scene and emotional final scene, where Horster is the only non-family member, and he is repeatedly offering to help the Stockmanns in various ways. Yet he does not seem to care very much about the issues. There is little evidence that he agrees with Dr. Stockmann or that he disagrees with the mayor. Instead, he symbolizes the calm man existing outside of society.

An Enemy of the People: Popular pages