An Enemy of the People: Act 1 Continued-1
Summary – Act One continued
Thomas can be heard off-stage as he tells Captain Horster to hang his coat up. Eilif and Morten (Thomas and Kate’s sons) are also present and Thomas shepherds them into the dining room.
Thomas and Peter talk and Thomas says how he likes to feel new life around him and how they are living in ‘a wonderful time’: ‘It’s almost like standing on the threshold of a new era.’ He expands by saying it is more apparent to him as he has been ‘buried up north at the back of beyond for years’. He is also appreciative of how he is also getting more money now. He points out how they have been having roast beef for dinner and supper (and Peter turns the offer of food down again) and that they have a new tablecloth and lamp shade too. He also tells Peter that he does not waste money, but does like to entertain and needs ‘lively, honest, ambitious young men about the place’ as he thrives on it. He only wishes that Peter got on better with Hovstad.
Peter tells him Hovstad called round in relation to the article Thomas wrote. Thomas says he cannot let him put this in now, but does not explain why. Peter asks what he means and enquires if there is anything he should know, but Thomas does not explain. Peter says he will not stand for any underhand methods or for Thomas to go his own way. He reminds Thomas of his belief that ‘it’s the duty of the individual to subordinate himself to society’ and to the ‘municipal authorities’. Thomas asks what relevance this has to him and Peter responds that not knowing this may cost him dear one day.
Peter leaves and Thomas arranges for toddies and cigars. Horster says how he is sailing next week, possibly to America, and Billing points out that he will not be here for the municipal elections. Horster says he takes no interest in public affairs. Billing tries to explain that ‘the town’s like a ship – everyone must help to steer’ and Horster replies that this would never do at sea.
The conversation turns to Thomas’s article and Hovstad says he’s planning to use it the day after tomorrow. Thomas says he will have to hold this over for a while and will tell him why later.
Petra (the daughter of Thomas and Kate) appears and she says how she has a letter for Thomas. The postman gave it to her (for Thomas) that morning. He goes into the consulting room to read it and while he is gone Petra is asked about her teaching work and she says how she enjoys it. Morten says she must be ‘really awfully wicked’ as Mr Rorlund says ‘work is a punishment for our sins’. Eilif is scornful and calls him a fathead for believing this. Hovstad asks Morten what he wants to be when he grows up and Morten says he is going to be a Viking. Billing says he is on his side when he says he will be a heathen and Kate then sends the boys to bed.
When they leave, she admits she does not like the boys to hear of such things of heathens, especially at home. Petra says this is hypocritical: ‘At home you mustn’t tell children the truth, and at school you have to tell them lies!’ She goes on to explain that if she had the means to start a school of her own she would run it on ‘very different lines’. Horster says if she is serious she may use the house his father left him. She thanks him, but says it is not likely to happen.
Analysis – Act One continued
When Peter reminds Thomas of his belief that the individual should subordinate him (or her)self to society and the municipal authorities, it is possible to see this as a crucial aspect of the play as a whole. This statement outlines Peter’s vested interests because as the Mayor he represents the municipal authorities. It also highlights how the brothers differ from each other as Thomas refuses to follow this tenet as he finally chooses to speak up for the minority.
Furthermore, as the action progresses, this view that the individual should adhere to the group is seen to be critiqued both through the dialogue of Thomas and through the actions of the crowd that are depicted as unruly and, at one point, violent. In this way, the workings of democracy are questioned as the individual is seen to be denied a voice in favor of that of the ‘solid majority’.