An Enemy of the People: Act 2
Summary – Act Two
Act Two begins the following morning in the same place. Kate gives Thomas a letter from Peter. He has returned the report and analysis, and Thomas says Peter is coming to see him at midday. Thomas says Peter will not be pleased that he (and not Peter) made the discovery, but thinks he will be glad enough underneath. Kate asks him to be generous and says to let Peter share the credit with him. He says he supposes so, as long as things are put right.
Morten Kiil appears and he says he will only come in if it is true. He then explains and asks if the story about the water supply is true. Petra told him about it and Thomas confirms it. Kiil suppresses a laugh when Thomas says how the news is a wonderful piece of luck. He asks why and Thomas says because he discovered it in time. Kiil asks about the ‘small animals’ that no one can see, and Thomas explains that these are minute organisms. Kiil says he will never persuade the Mayor to believe this.
Kiil is still annoyed that he was thrown off the council and tells him to do what he can to make the Mayor and his ‘pals’ ‘fall for it’. He adds that he will give £5 to the poor if he does. He then reduces it and says he will give £2 10 to the poor next Christmas.
Hovstad then comes to the house and Kiil asks if he is in on it too, and Thomas says he is. Kiil leaves and Thomas laughs at how he does not believe what he has said about the water supply.
The conversation continues and Hovstad says how Thomas has said that the pollution of the water ‘is caused by various impurities in the soil’. Thomas agrees that it comes from the marsh and Hovstad says he thinks ‘it’s caused by a quite different sort of marsh’: ‘I’m thinking of the marsh in which the whole of our municipal life is rotting!’ He explains that he thinks ‘the affairs of this town have drifted into the hands of a pack of bureaucrats’ and a handful of men have power and these are from ‘the old families’.
Thomas says that they are able men and Hovstad questions this. He then assures Thomas that The Herald will be taking the cause up and tells him he swore he would ‘break up this ring of bigoted old fools’ when he took over the paper. Thomas is more cautious and says how Hovstad has tried this before and nearly ‘wrecked’ the paper. He also says they owe ‘a great debt of gratitude’ to these men. Hovstad agrees but says ‘as a journalist with democratic beliefs’ he cannot let the ‘opportunity slip’. He says the truth should come first, and Thomas says ‘yes, of course’ and then adds, ‘but all the same-’.
Hovstad says how he comes of ‘humble stock’ and knows the working classes need to be allowed ‘some part in the direction of public affairs’. He sees this as his responsibility.
Aslaksen then calls and tells Thomas that he will give his support for a new water supply. He says he is of the ‘small middle-class’ men and these form a ‘solid majority’ in the town. Thomas says how he does not see this as necessary as the matter is straightforward. Aslaksen says the local authorities are never eager to adopt new measures and says he thinks it might be a good idea to organise a little demonstration, which will be done in ‘moderation’ (which he sees as the finest virtue a citizen can have). He then says how important the matter of the water supply is and as the Chairman of the Householders’ Association and a member of the Temperance Society he has some influence in the town. He also says he could call for a vote of thanks (for Thomas) and Thomas thanks him. He offers Aslaksen a glass of sherry and then beer, and Aslaksen declines both. Aslaksen speaks of moderation again when Hovstad says he will give ‘them’ ‘a good shake-up’ in the newspaper.
When Aslaksen leaves, Hovstad asks Thomas if he thinks it is time to put an end to ‘all this dithering weakness and cowardice’ (which is how he sees Aslaksen). Hovstad says he demands more than this of a man and expects principles to be acted on confidently. He also says that ‘worship of authority has got to be stamped out in this town’ and the ‘criminal blunder’ must be told to everyone. Thomas agrees if he thinks it is for ‘the common good’ but wants to speak to his brother first. He says he (Hovstad) may print his report if his brother refuses to take the matter up. He gives it to him and says it will not do any harm to read it anyway.
Peter appears some time after Hovstad leaves and asks Thomas if it was necessary to make all these investigations behind his back. He then asks if he has taken the trouble to think about what the proposed alterations of building a sewer and relaying water pipes will cost. He continues and says it will be somewhere between £40,000 and £50,000 and will take two years.
Thomas is surprised at both of these points and Peter also says how in the meantime they will have to close the Baths. He also says if this happens, the town will be ruined and it will be Thomas’s fault. When Peter says he is not even convinced there is any imminent danger, Thomas argues that he does know but will not acknowledge it as it was through him that the Baths and pipes were built where they are.
Analysis – Act Two
The clash between perceived economic necessity and morality is drawn sharply here and the two brothers represent the two poles. Whereas Peter is seen to be pragmatic and concerned with the financial price of the changes that are required, Thomas is characterized by his naïve but determined view that the health of the citizens of the town and the tourists will be seen as being more important than the cost for alterations.
Hovstad professed desire to speak for the masses and challenge those in power is also noteworthy as he goes on to demonstrate that he is easily swayed by the dominant ideology. At this point, however, he appears to symbolize the potential power of the press.