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The original frontpage of Henrik Ibsen's En folkefiende, 1882.

An Enemy of the People (original Norwegian title: En folkefiende) is an 1882 play by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen wrote it in response to the public outcry against his play Ghosts, which at that time was considered scandalous. Ghosts had challenged the hypocrisy of Victorian morality and was deemed indecent for its veiled references to syphilis.

An Enemy of the People addresses the irrational tendencies of the masses, and the hypocritical and corrupt nature of the political system that they support. It is the story of one brave man's struggle to do the right thing and speak the truth in the face of extreme social intolerance. The play's protagonist, Dr Stockmann, represents the playwright's own voice. Upon completion of the play, Ibsen wrote to his publisher in Copenhagen : "I am still uncertain as to whether I should call it a comedy or a straight drama. It may [have] many traits of comedy, but it also is based on a serious idea."



Dr. Thomas Stockmann is a popular citizen of a small coastal town in Norway. The town has recently invested a large amount of public and private money towards the development of baths, a project led by Dr. Stockmann and his brother, the Mayor. The town is expecting a surge in tourism and prosperity from the new baths, said to be of great medicinal value, and as such, the baths are a source of great local pride. However, just as the baths are proving successful, Dr. Stockmann discovers that waste products from the town's tannery are contaminating the waters, causing serious illness amongst the tourists. He expects this important discovery to be his greatest achievement, and promptly sends a detailed report to the Mayor, which includes a proposed solution but this would come at a considerable cost to the town.

To his surprise, Stockmann finds it difficult to get through to the authorities. They seem unable to appreciate the seriousness of the issue and unwilling to publicly acknowledge and address the problem because it could mean financial ruin for the town. As the conflict develops, the Mayor warns his brother that he should "acquiesce in subordinating himself to the community." Stockmann refuses to accept this, and holds a town meeting at Captain Horster's house in order to persuade people that the baths must be closed.

The townspeople - eagerly anticipating the prosperity that the baths will bring - refuse to accept Stockmann's claims, and his friends and allies, who had explicitly given support for his campaign, turn against him en masse. He is taunted and denounced as a lunatic, an "Enemy of the People." In a scathing rebuttal of both the Victorian notion of community and the principles of democracy, Dr. Stockmann proclaims that in matters of right and wrong, the individual is superior to the multitude, which is easily led by self-advancing demagogues. Stockmann sums up Ibsen's denunciation of the masses, with the memorable quote "...the strongest man in the world is the man who stands most alone."



List of characters

  • Dr. Thomas Stockmann.
  • Mrs. Stockmann, his wife.
  • Petra, their daughter, a teacher.
  • Ejlif & Morten, their sons.
  • Peter Stockmann, Dr. Stockmann's elder brother.
  • Morten Kiil, a tanner (Mrs. Stockmann's adoptive father), also known as the badger.
  • Hovstad, editor.
  • Billing, sub-editor.
  • Captain Horster.
  • Aslaksen, a publisher.
  • Men of various conditions and occupations, a few women, and a troop of schoolboys - the audience at a public meeting.


In An Enemy of the People, speaking the language of comic exaggeration through the mouth of his spokesman, the disillusioned idealist Dr. Thomas Stockmann, Ibsen puts into very literal terms the theme of the play: It is true that ideas grow stale and platitudinous, but one may go one step further and say flatly that truths die. According to Stockmann, there are no absolute principles of either wisdom or morality. In this Ibsen is referring indirectly to the reception of his previous plays. For example, the biblical injunction "honor thy father and thy mother" referred to in Ghosts is not simply either true or false. It may have been a truth once and a falsehood today.[1] As Stockmann puts it in his excited harangue to his political enemies: "Truths are by no means the wiry Methuselahs some people think them. A normally constituted truth lives—let us say—as a rule, seventeen or eighteen years; at the outside twenty; very seldom more. And truths so patriarchal as that are always shockingly emaciated."


This classic play was adapted by Arthur Miller in the 1950s in a production that opened at the Broadhurst Theater on December 28, 1950. It starred Academy Award winner Fredric March and his wife Florence Eldridge as well as Morris Carnovsky; future Oscar winner Rod Steiger was a "townsperson." Miller's adaptation was presented on National Educational Television in 1966, in a production starring James Daly. It was also made into a movie of the same name in 1978, starring Steve McQueen. The BBC then cast Robert Urquhart as "Tom Stockman" in their 1980 TV version, adapting the story and the cast names to reflect it now being set in a Scottish town.[2]

Satyajit Ray's 1989 film Ganashatru, was also based on this play.

An Enemy of the People (with the subtitle The strongest one is that who stands alone) - a Norwegian film issued in 2004 and directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg - is an adaptation of Ibsen's play with the same name.

The principles of the storyline - although not the theme - are also used in the 1975 film Jaws. In this, the beach represents the town, whilst the Shark is the analogue of the bacteria and waste products in the town's water.

See also


  1. ^ Krutch, Joseph Wood. "Modernism" in Modern Drama: A Definition and an Estimate. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1953. Page 11.
  2. ^ BBC TV's 1980 version of the novel, set in Scotland: website. Retrieved on January 13, 2008.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Henrik Ibsen article)

From Wikiquote

I believe that first and foremost I am an individual, just as you are.

Henrik Johan Ibsen (1828-03-201906-05-23) was a Norwegian playwright who was largely responsible for the rise of the modern realistic drama. It is said that Ibsen is the most frequently performed dramatist in the world after Shakespeare.



To live is to battle the demons in the heart as well as the brain. To write is to preside at judgement day over one's self.
The spirit of truth and the spirit of freedom — these are the pillars of society.
  • He who possesses liberty otherwise than as an aspiration possesses it soulless, dead. One of the qualities of liberty is that, as long as it is being striven after, it goes on expanding. Therefore, the man who stands still in the midst of the struggle and says, "I have it," merely shows by so doing that he has just lost it. Now this very contentedness in the possession of a dead liberty is characteristic of the so-called State, and, as I have said, it is not a good characteristic. No doubt the franchise, self-taxation, etc., are benefits — but to whom? To the citizen, not to the individual. Now, reason does not imperatively demand that the individual should be a citizen. Far from it. The State is the curse of the individual. With what is Prussia's political strength bought? With the absorption of the individual in the political and geographical idea. The waiter is the best soldier. And on the other hand, take the Jewish people, the aristocracy of the human race — how is it they have kept their place apart, their poetical halo, amid surroundings of coarse cruelty? By having no State to burden them. Had they remained in Palestine, they would long ago have lost their individuality in the process of their State's construction, like all other nations. Away with the State! I will take part in that revolution. Undermine the whole conception of a State, declare free choice and spiritual kinship to be the only all-important conditions of any union, and you will have the commencement of a liberty that is worth something. Changes in forms of government are pettifogging affairs — a degree less or a degree more, mere foolishness. The State has its root in time, and will ripe and rot in time. Greater things than it will fall — religion, for example. Neither moral conceptions nor art-forms have an eternity before them. How much are we really in duty bound to pin our faith to? Who will guarantee me that on Jupiter two and two do not make five ?
    • Letter to Georg Brandes (17 February 1871), as translated in Henrik Ibsen : Björnstjerne Björnson. Critical Studies (1899) by Georg Morris Cohen Brandes
    • Variant translation: The quality of liberty is that, as long as it is being striven after, it goes on expanding. Therefore, the man who stands still in the midst of the struggle and says: "I have it," merely shows by so doing that he has lost it. Now this very contentedness in the possession of a dead liberty is a characteristic of the so-called state; and it is worthless.
      • As translated in Ibsen : The Man, His Art & His Significance (1907) by Haldane Macfall, p. 238
    • Variant translation: Neither moral concepts nor art forms can expect to live forever. How much are we obliged to hold on to? Who can guarantee that 2 plus 2 don't add up to 5 on Jupiter?
  • That power which circumstances placed in my hands, and which is an emanation of divinity, I am conscious of having used to the best of my skill. I have never wittingly wronged any one. For this campaign there were good and sufficient reasons; and if some should think that I have not fulfilled all expectations, they ought in justice to reflect that there is a mysterious power without us, which in a great measure governs the issue of human undertakings.
  • Erring soul of man — if thou wast indeed forced to err, it shall surely be accounted to thee for good on that great day when the Mighty One shall descend in the clouds to judge the living dead and the dead who are yet alive!
  • At leve er — krig med trolde
    i hjertets og hjernens hvælv.
    At digte, — det er at holde
    dommedag over sig selv.
    • To live is to battle the demons
      in the heart as well as the brain.
      To write is to preside at
      judgement day over one's self.
      • Et vers (A Verse), inscribed on the volume Poems (1877)
    • Ibsen may have written this originally in German as a dedication to a female reader. It was published in German in Deutsche Rundschau in November 1886:
Leben, das heisst bekriegen
In Herz und Hirn die Gewalten;
Und dichten; über sich selber
Den Gerichtstag halten.
  • The great secret of power is never to will to do more than you can accomplish. The great secret of action and victory is to be capable of living your life without ideals. Such is the sum of the whole world's wisdom.
    • As quoted in The Ibsen Calendar : A Quotation from the Works of Henrik Ibsen for Every Day (1913) by C. A. Arfwedson
  • I hold that man is in the right who is most closely in league with the future.
  • The great task of our time is to blow up all existing institutions — to destroy.
    • Letter of 1883, quoted in The Drama of Ibsen and Strindberg (1962) by Frank Laurence Lucas, p. 34
  • Tvertimot!
    • On the contrary!
    • His last words, in response to a nurse who said she thought he looked better than usual; as quoted in The History of World Theater : From the English Restoration to the Present‎ (1999) by Felicia Hardison Londré and Margot Berthold, p. 341

Love's Comedy (1862)

Kjærlighedens Komedie as translated by C. H. Herford (1900)
  • I thank God that in the bath of Pain
    He purged my love.
    What strong compulsion drew
    Me on I knew not, till I saw in you
    The treasure I had blindly sought in vain.
    I praise Him, who our love has lifted thus
    To noble rank by sorrow, — licensed us
    To a triumphal progress, bade us sweep
    Thro' fen and forest to our castle-keep,
    A noble pair, astride on Pegasus!
    • Falk, Act III
  • I feel myself like God's lost prodigal;
    I left Him for the world's delusive charms.
    With mild reproof He wooed me to his arms;
    And when I come, He lights the vaulted hall,
    Prepares a banquet for the son restored,
    And makes His noblest creature my reward.
    From this time forth I'll never leave that Light, —
    But stand its armed defender in the fight;
    Nothing shall part us, and our life shall prove
    A song of glory to triumphant love!
    • Falk, Act III
  • Tho' Doubt's beleaguering forces hem us in,
    Yet Truth upon the Serpent's head shall trample.
    The cause of Love shall win —
    • Falk, Act III
  • Yes, Love shall win!
    • Crowd, responding to Falk, in Act III
  • An unromantic poem I mean to make
    Of one who only lives for duty's sake.
    • Guldstad
  • I go to scale the Future's possibilities! Farewell!
    God bless thee, bride of my life's dawn, Where'er I be, to nobler deed thou'lt wake me.
    • Falk, in a statement rich with ironies.

Brand (1866)

  • Ikke tusend ord
    sig prenter, som én gernings spor.
    • A thousand words can't
      make the mark a single deed will leave.
    • Manden, Act II
  • Tabets alt din vinding skabte —
    Evigt ejes kun det tabte!
    • Losing all was winning's cost!
      Eternally owned is but what's lost!
    • Brand, Act IV
  • Brand: Svar mig, Gud, i dødens slug!
    gælder ej et frelsens fnug
    quantum satis?
    Skreden begraver ham; hele dalen fyldes.]
    En Røst: [
    Räber gennem tordenbragene] Han er deus caritatis!
    • Brand: Answer me, God, in the jaws of death:
      Is there no salvation for the Will of Man?
      No small measure of salvation?
      [The avalanche buries him. The valley is swallowed up.]
      A Voice: [Calls through the crashing thunder] He is the God of Love.
    • Act V

Peer Gynt (1867)

[First performed in Oslo (then called Christiania) on February 24, 1876, with incidental music by Edvard Grieg]
  • Peer, du lyver!
    • Peer, you are lying!
    • Åse, Act I, Scene I
  • Om jeg hamrer eller hamres,
    ligefuldt så skal der jamres!
    • Whether I pound or am being pounded,
      all the same there will be moaning!
    • Peer Gynt, declaring that no matter what he does, it is not what people want, Act I, Scene I
  • Ja, tænke det; ønske det; ville det med;
    men gjøre det! Nej, det skjønner jeg ikke!
    • To think it, wish it, even want it —
      but do it! No, that I cannot understand.
    • Peer Gynt, after he sees a boy cut off his finger to avoid serving in the army, Act III, Scene I
  • Really to sin you have to be serious about it.
    • Button-Moulder, Act V, Scene VII

The Pillars of Society (1877)

  • I'm afraid for all those who'll have the bread snatched from their mouths by these machines. You are very fond, sir, of talking about the consideration we owe to the community; it seems to me, however, that the community has its duties too. What business has science and capitalism got, bringing all these new inventions into the works, before society has produced a generation educated up to using them!
    • Aune, Act II
  • Look into any man's heart you please, and you will always find, in every one, at least one black spot which he has to keep concealed.
    • Bernick, Act III
  • The spirit of truth and the spirit of freedom — these are the pillars of society.
    • Lona, Act IV

A Doll's House (1879)

  • There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing and debt.
    • Torvald Helmer, Act I
  • What's to become of the morally sound? Left out in the cold, I suppose. We must heal the sick.
    • Dr. Rank, Act I
  • Many a man can save himself if he admits he's done wrong and takes his punishment.
    • Torvald Helmer, Act I
  • I've had the most extraordinary longing to say 'Bloody Hell'!
    • Nora Helmer, Act II
  • You don't get nothing for nothing in this life.
    • Dr. Rank, Act III
  • There is a big black hat and it makes you invisible. Have you heard of that hat? You put it on and then no one can see you.
    • Dr. Rank, Act III, speaking of death
  • The black, cold, icy water. Down and down, without end — if it would only end.
    • Nora Helmer, Act III
  • But our home's been nothing but a playpen. I've been your doll-wife here, just as at home I was Papa's doll-child. And in turn the children have been my dolls. I thought it fun when you played with me, just as they thought it fun when I played with them. That's been our marriage, Torvald.
    • Nora Helmer, Act III
    • Variant translation: Our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa's doll-child; and here the children have been my dolls. I thought it great fun when you played with me, just as they thought it great fun when I played with them. That is what our marriage has been, Torvald.
  • If I'm ever to reach any understanding of myself and the things around me, I must learn to stand alone. That's why I can't stay here with you any longer.
    • Nora Helmer, Act III
  • I have other duties equally sacred ... Duties to myself.
    • Nora Helmer, Act III
    • Variant translation: I have another duty equally sacred ... My duty to myself.
  • Helmer: First and foremost, you are a wife and mother.
    Nora: That I don't believe any more. I believe that first and foremost I am an individual, just as you are.

Ghosts (1881)

  • To crave for happiness in this world is simply to be possessed by a spirit of revolt. What right have we to happiness?
    • Manders, Act I
  • I am half inclined to think we are all ghosts, Mr. Manders. It is not only what we have inherited from our fathers and mothers that exists again in us, but all sorts of old dead ideas and all kinds of old dead beliefs and things of that kind. They are not actually alive in us; but there they are dormant, all the same, and we can never be rid of them. Whenever I take up a newspaper and read it, I fancy I see ghosts creeping between the lines. There must be ghosts all over the world. They must be as countless as the grains of the sands, it seems to me. And we are so miserably afraid of the light, all of us.
    • Mrs. Alving, Act II

An Enemy of the People (1882)

You should never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth.
  • A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.
    • Billing, Act I
  • The majority never has right on its side.
    • Dr. Stockmann, Act IV
    • Robert Farquharson translation
  • You should never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth.
    • Dr. Stockmann, Act V
    • Robert Farquharson translation
  • Sagen er den, ser I, at den stærkeste mand i verden, det er han, som står mest alene.
    • You see, the point is that the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.
    • Dr. Stockmann, Act V

The Wild Duck (1884)

  • Always do that, wild ducks do. They shoot to the bottom as deep as they can get, sir — and bite themselves fast in the tangle and seaweed — and all the devil's own mess that grows down there. And they never come up again.
    • Ekdal, Act II
  • A marriage based on full confidence, based on complete and unqualified frankness on both sides; they are not keeping anything back; there's no deception underneath it all. If I might so put it, it's an agreement for the mutual forgiveness of sin.
    • Hjalmar, Act IV
  • Forget that foreign word "ideals." We have that good old native word: "lies."
    • Relling, Act V
  • Tar De livsløgnen fra et gennemsnitsmenneske, så tar De lykken fra ham med det samme.
    • If you take the life lie from an average man, you take away his happiness as well.
    • Relling, Act V

Hedda Gabler (1890)

  • Our common lust for life.
    • Lövborg, Act II
  • Oh courage...oh yes! If only one had that...Then life might be livable, in spite of everything.
    • Hedda, Act II
  • Back he'll come...With vine leaves in his hair. Flushed and confident.
    • Hedda, Act II
  • Everything I touch seems destined to turn into something mean and farcical.
    • Hedda, Act IV

The Master Builder (1892)

  • The younger generation will come knocking at my door.
    • Solness, Act I
  • A forest bird never wants a cage.
    • Hilda, Act III
  • Castles in the air — they are so easy to take refuge in. And so easy to build, too.
    • Hilda, Act III

When We Dead Awaken (1899)

  • People who don't know how to keep themselves healthy ought to have the decency to get themselves buried, and not waste time about it.
    • Ulfhejm, in Act I
  • When we dead awaken. ... We see that we have never lived.
    • Irene, in Act II

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Up to date as of January 22, 2010

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An Enemy of the People
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