An Enemy of the People: Act 3 Continued-1
Summary – Act Three continued
Hovstad says it was Billing’s idea to have the story in, and to run it as a serial. He also tells her Billing has applied for the post of secretary and she is surprised at this too.
She says how he (Hovstad) is now supporting ‘a really great cause’ and he asks if she means the discovery her father has made. She says how journalism is a glorious profession to be in and he says especially when the wronged man is her father. She asks if that is what at the back of it all, not the truth, but (it is implied) that it is because he is her father. She says she will never be able to trust him again and accuses him of being deceptive. He tells her to not be so bitter and says her father cannot do without his help now. He apologizes when she reprimands him for this and then leaves as Aslaksen comes back in.
Hovstad is then told the Mayor has come to see him. After a preamble, Peter says how he has had a trying time this morning due to his brother. Hovstad says ‘really?’ and Peter says how he has written a report about the baths, which he wants to give to the committee. Hovstad says he believes he has said something about this.
Aslaksen comes in and asks for the article and Peter indicates this is what he has been talking about. Aslaksen says how it is by Doctor Stockmann and Hovstad asks Peter if this is what he was referring to, and Peter says yes. Aslaksen tells Peter he has nothing to with what goes in the paper and Peter tells him about the influence he has. He also says how it is heartening that the poorer classes are willing to make sacrifices. Aslaksen says he does not understand and Peter says at a rough estimate the alterations proposed by Thomas will cost something like £40,000 and they will have to raise a municipal loan.
Hovstad rises and questions this, and Aslaksen asks if it will come out of the rates. Peter asks where else would it come from and Aslaksen says the owners of the Baths will have to find it. Peter argues they are not in a position to incur any further expenses and adds that they will also have to close the Baths for two years. He also says how no one will come anyway if they put the idea of pollution in people’s heads.
Aslaksen asks if this is all just an idea and Peter answers that he has not been able to convince himself it is anything else. Aslaksen says in that case it is unforgivable of Dr Stockmann (to say this about pollution) and Peter says his brother has always been ‘rather impulsive’. Aslaksen asks Hovstad if he still intends to support the doctor and Hovstad says ‘how was I to know that –?’ Peter tells them he has drawn up a short statement of the facts as he thinks they appear to ‘any reasonable person’ and how defects can be put right ‘without any great loss of revenue’.
Hovstad asks if he has it with him and Peter goes to his pocket. Aslaksen then notices that Thomas has arrived and Peter says he had better not find him here. Hovstad tells him to go out of one of the doors for a while – until Thomas has gone – and Hovstad tells Aslaksen to pretend to be doing something.
Thomas enters and says he hears there are no proofs yet and Aslaksen tells him he cannot expect them yet. Hovstad tells Thomas it will take some time. Thomas then misunderstands when he begins to talk about how he is doing no more than his duty and Hovstad begins to say he cannot conceal something from him. Thomas assumes he means he is hiding how people want to thank him with a procession or a dinner.
Hovstad begins to explain the truth when Kate enters. She says to Thomas that does not seem to be thinking of her and the children or he would not be ‘so anxious to ruin us all’. Thomas questions this and says that just because a man has a family it does not mean that he cannot ‘proclaim the truth’. She tells him he can be a useful citizen (as he says) in moderation. She then accuses Hovstad of making a fool of him, because she thinks he is going to publish the article.
Thomas points out he would not let anyone do this to him, which she challenges and says although he is clever he is easily fooled. She tells Aslaksen and Hovstad that if they print the article, Thomas will lose his job. Aslaksen is surprised and Thomas laughs and says they will never go as far as that with the ‘solid majority’ behind him. He tells Kate to run along home and look after the house while he looks after the town.
He goes on to say how the truth and the people will win, and then he notices the Mayor’s hat and stick. He puts the hat on and takes the stick and opens the door to find Peter. Thomas tells him to show him respect, as he is ‘the bigwig in the town now!’. Peter is furious and tells him to put the hat down and Thomas calls it a fancy dress hat. He then says, ‘there’ll be a minor revolution’ tomorrow. He says he has ‘the whole power of society’ behind him and Hovstad, Billing and Aslaksen support him too.
Analysis – Act Three continued
The appearance of Peter at the offices of the newspaper and his subsequent conversation with Hovstad and Aslaksen demonstrate that all three characters are easily influenced by the fear of upsetting public opinion. The price of the alterations is seen to be unacceptable for the town’s citizens and together they tacitly decide that Thomas’s article is no longer acceptable.
Although this play is mainly concerned with the immorality of those in power and the dangers of democracy when the minority is not listened to, there are also comic aspects that should not be overlooked. This is evident when Thomas mistakenly believes the people want to thank him for his discovery and a procession or dinner is to be held for him. This has the effect of reminding the readers and viewers that Thomas is also fallible and is often guilty of the sin of hubris.