An Enemy of the People: Act 1 Continued-2
Summary – Act One continued
Thomas enters at this point and brandishes his letter. He says he has some news ‘that’ll shake the town’. He explains how although the town has been seen as ‘one of the healthiest’ in the country, and he has also praised it in print, the Baths are ‘a plague spot’. He tells them that the ‘effluent and muck’ from the tannery up at Molledal is getting into the pipes and contaminating the water used in the pump room. This ‘filth’ also oozes out onto the shore near the bathing station.
Hovstad asks how he knows this and Thomas says he started investigating the matter as last season there were quite a number of illnesses among the visitors – ‘gastric cases – even typhoid’. He started testing the drinking water and the seawater and sent samples off to the university for ‘expert analysis’. The tests show the water is dangerous to drink and use.
He tells Petra she can tell ‘The Badger’ (her grandfather, Morten Kiil) the news tomorrow as it is his tannery. He then says that all the water pipes will have to be re-laid. Hovstad rises and asks, ‘the entire system?’ Thomas explains it is as he thought previously and that ‘the intake is too low – it’ll have to be put much higher up’. He adds that he has already written a report and will send the analysis with it. He asks that the maid take it now to the Mayor. He says Peter will be grateful to him for discovering the facts.
Hovstad says he would like to put a short paragraph in The Herald about it and Billing says this discovery will make him ‘the most important man in town’. Thomas says ‘nonsense’ but is also pleased. He then says he would not accept a pay rise. The Act ends with the others congratulating him and he says how wonderful he feels for being of service to the town and its citizens.
Analysis – Act One continued
Thomas’s discovery of the pollution at the Baths sets off the chain of events that comprise the rest of the play and is, therefore, one of the main turning points in the action.
Peter’s earlier warning that Thomas should not act as an individual is seen to have had a basis as Thomas has clearly separated himself from the group (of the council) by investigating the quality of the water. This action is portrayed as positive, as heroic even, as Thomas represents good in his bid to stop the spread of illness. By default, Peter’s view that individuals should act together is questioned by the play and is criticized more closely later.