An Enemy of the People: Act 4
Summary – Act Four
The setting of this act is in a room in Captain Horster’s house and it is a couple of evenings later. The room is almost full of people of all classes of mostly men, but there are also a few women and a small group of schoolboys.
The act begins with four unnamed citizens talking to each other. One says he has brought his whistle and mentions that old Evenson said he was going to bring a cow horn. The fourth one asks the others what the meeting is about and the second one explains that Doctor Stockmann is going to have a go at the Mayor. The third one says the doctor is in the wrong this time according to The Herald. The second one agrees, and agrees ‘because neither the Householders’ Association nor the City Club’ld let him have a hall!’
One called ‘first man’ asks ‘second man’ whose side does he suppose they should be on. The ‘second man’ says to watch Aslaksen and to do as he does. Billing appears and tells people he has come to report for The Herald.
Horster appears with Kate, Petra and the boys and she thanks him for the use of his room and says he is brave. Hovstad, Aslaksen and the Mayor appear and a moment later Thomas enters and Kate tells him to keep his temper.
Thomas takes out his manuscript and Aslaksen asks if they should elect a chairman first. Thomas says there is no need, but several men also ask for one and Peter agrees. Other scattered voices, and these include Hovstad, also say they should have a chairman and Thomas finally concurs. Aslaksen proposes the Mayor should take this role, but Peter declines and proposes Aslaksen instead. Others in the crowd agree and Aslaksen accepts.
Aslaksen makes a short speech about moderation and asks if anyone wishes to say anything, and Peter says how the Medical Officer of the Baths should ‘refrain from publicly delivering his proposed lecture on the subject’. Thomas flares up, but stays quiet when Kate reminds him with a cough that he should stay calm.
Peter then refers to a letter he wrote that appeared in The Herald two days ago and which he said laid out the ‘essential facts’ that the Medical Officer’s proposals would saddle the ratepayers with ‘unwelcome and unnecessary expenditure’ of at least £40,000. Nearly the whole assembly hisses and boos and Aslaksen brings them to order. He then says that he supports the Mayor and adds that he thinks there is more behind Doctor Stockmann’s proposal than they have been led to believe: ‘Doctor Stockmann talks about the baths, when all the time he’s aiming at a revolution!’ Aslaksen is applauded loudly when he finishes.
Hovstad then explains his position, and that he first supported the doctor, ‘but before long it appeared that we had been misled by a misrepresentation of the facts’. Thomas questions the word ‘misrepresentation’ and Hovstad changes it to ‘an incomplete view of the facts’. He then defends the role of the newspaper and says public opinion is against the doctor. He goes on to say his chief failing is following his heart rather than his head and should consider his family.
Aslaksen says he will now put the Mayor’s resolution to the vote, but Thomas stops him and tells them he has something different to say. He informs them he has a revelation and tells them ‘our whole moral life is polluted’. Aslaksen asks him to moderate his language and Thomas speaks again to say how he loves his native town and did not forget them when he was ‘buried in that hole up north’. While there he says he was like an eider duck ‘brooding on her nest’ as he hatched the plan for the Baths. He also says that yesterday morning, however, his eyes were opened and he saw the ‘colossal stupidity of the municipal authorities’. His wife coughs once more and Peter protests. Thomas carries on and says he cannot stand ‘leading men’ and compares them to goats in a garden in that they ‘damage everything they touch’. He ends by telling them he would like to see ‘the whole damn lot of them exterminated like any other vermin’.
There is general uproar at this point, but Thomas continues to say how the only thing that bothers him is that it took him so long to ‘tumble to it’, especially when he had such a ‘superb example’ in his brother. Kate coughs yet again and Aslaksen rings his bell. A drunk starts making a fuss and is ejected.
Thomas speaks again and says these men are not the real danger, and they are not the ones who are ‘chiefly responsible for poisoning our moral environment’. Scattered voices ask him to name names. He tells them that ‘the greatest menace to truth and progress’ is what they call the ‘solid majority’. Following this point, there is a ‘terrific uproar’.
Aslaksen calls them to order eventually and asks Thomas to withdraw his comment. He refuses and says the majority has denied him freedom and prevented him from speaking the truth. Hovstad and Billing question this and he argues his point further: ‘The majority has might, unfortunately – but it hasn’t right! It’s I, and a few like me, who are right! The minority’s always right!’ More uproar ensues and Hovstad asks if he has become an aristocrat, and then a revolutionary. With the latter point Thomas says he is right for once as he is in revolt ‘against the lie that truth is always vested in the majority!’ He says there is only one truth, ‘and that is that no society can ever thrive on such old and fossilized truths!’
Analysis – Act Four
This act is dominated by the sweeping criticisms made of the so-called ‘solid majority’ and by the praise that is made of the voice of the minority. Through the voice of Thomas, democracy is made questionable as is the view that public opinion should be taken account of.
In the context of this play, Thomas’s point is seen to be valid in that his scientific evidence is overlooked in favor of what the public is seen to want. This questioning of democracy may be seen to be double-edged, though, and Thomas may also be perceived as arrogant, individualistic and an unwitting symbol of how the individual needs to find support of others to be effective in society.