An Enemy of the People: Act 1
Summary – Act One
The setting is described and this first act is based in Dr Thomas Stockmann’s sitting room. It is described as ‘modestly appointed’ and ‘neatly furnished’. One door leads off to the hall, another to his consulting room and the third to the rest of the house. There are also open ‘communicating’ doors that reveal the dining room. Mr Billing is sitting at the dining table and Mrs Katherine (Kate) Stockmann is standing by the table and places a large plate of roast beef in front of him. The other chairs are pushed back and the table is untidy as though after a meal has been eaten.
Kate points out to Billing that he is an hour late for supper and so must not mind if the meat is a bit cold. He says how it is delicious and that he likes eating alone.
Mr Peter Stockmann then enters and Kate looks a little embarrassed when he says that he sees she has company. She says he is just someone who has ‘looked in’. She asks if he would like something to eat and he says no and explains that he would not be able to sleep if he did so (because of indigestion). He also says he usually prefers tea and bread and butter at this time and adds that it costs less too. She begins to say that she hopes he does not think she and Thomas are extravagant and he interrupts and says he does not think she is. He asks after Thomas (his brother) and she tells him he has taken the boys out.
Mr Hovstad then comes in and apologizes for being late. He says he was held up at the printers. On seeing Peter, he says ‘good evening, Mr Mayor’. Peter asks him if he is here on business (for the newspaper) and points out how his brother has written a few articles for The Herald lately.
Peter then says how he has ‘nothing against’ this paper and that ‘there’s as fine a spirit of tolerance, mutual understanding and fair-mindedness here in this town as you’ll find anywhere’. He goes on to discuss what he calls ‘this great new common interest of ours’ and Hovstad finishes his sentence in agreement and refers to the Spa Baths. Peter says ‘exactly’ and that the ‘whole future of this town – as a really popular seaside resort’ centers on these baths. Kate says this is what Thomas says and Hovstad agrees and adds that unemployment is not as it was.
Hovstad explains that Thomas’s article is about the health-giving properties of the Baths and Kate says she thinks he would do anything for them. Peter points out that this is expected of him (Thomas) as he is the Town Medical Officer.
Hovstad says Thomas practically created them and Peter replies that he likes to think that he also played ‘a modest part in the undertaking’. He agrees that Thomas had the original idea, and adds that it is one thing to have ideas and quite another to put them into practice. On being invited, Hovstad goes into the dining room for something to eat and Kate asks if Peter and Thomas cannot share the credit.
Analysis – Act One
In this early part of the play, several of the main characters are introduced by their appearance or, as in the case of Thomas, by dialogue. The audience (and readers) learn that he and his brother Peter are important figures in the town and at least an element of rivalry is evident between them.
It is also made apparent that the Stockmann home is one that is inviting to others and Billing and Hovstad (of the newspaper) both partake of the food that is offered to them.
The Baths are also referred to in this section and their significance to the town in terms of improved economics and status are underlined. It is also highlighted here that Thomas played a major role in setting up the Baths as a resort area and this should be remembered when he later decides to criticize them and is called ‘an enemy of the people’.