An Enemy of the People: Act 4 Continued
Summary – Act Four continued
Hovstad asks him for examples of these ‘fossilized truths’ and Thomas tells him that one is the doctrine he expounds that ‘the common man’ ‘has the same right to approve and to condemn, to counsel and to govern, as the qualified intellectually few!’.
Billing, Hovstad and others protest, and Evenson blows his horn. Thomas speaks when the noise subsides and says he at least expected Hovstad to be on his side as he claims to be a free thinker.
Hovstad tells him to prove that he has said this and Thomas reflects that it is true that Hovstad has never had the courage to say this. Thomas goes on to say how there is a world of difference between pedigree and ordinary animals, and how the masses are the raw material, and that the newspapers lie and say the masses are ‘the backbone of the nation’.
There is another outcry and one of the crowd says they are not animals. Thomas disagrees and says ‘even among us there are all too few of the finest breed!’ He tells them Hovstad agrees as long as he is talking about four-footed animals. Hovstad says he makes no claims to superiority and is of ‘honest, hardworking country-folk’.
Thomas clarifies and says the ‘common people’ he is referring to are not just found in the rank and file and says his brother is one of these. He explains further that Peter is ‘inferior’ because he takes his thoughts from those above him. Thomas also says that his discovery is that ‘liberal thinking is almost exactly the same as morality’. He argues it is ‘ignorance, poverty and dirt’ and not culture that is ‘demoralizing’. There is another shout from the crowd and Thomas says he will cry out the truth at every street corner and write to the papers in other towns to let people know about what is going on.
Hovstad says his one idea is ‘to ruin the town’ and Thomas agrees saying he would rather ruin it than see it prosper on a lie. There is more hissing and catcalls, and Kate coughs to no avail. Hovstad shouts the following: ‘A man who’ld say a thing like that is nothing but an enemy of the people.’ Thomas reiterates what he has said with ‘mounting fervour’ and says that the country should fall too if contaminated with lies, and voices in the room call out their agreement with Hovstad (that Thomas is an enemy of the people).
Aslaksen proposes a formal resolution that the doctor is ‘an enemy of the people’. There is wild applause and cheering and Thomas calls them ‘near-sighted fools’. Aslaksen insists they have a ballot on the motion and Thomas says to Morten Kiil that he has done his duty. He also tells him his tannery is the worst of the lot (for pollution) and Kiil asks if he is going to put that in the papers. Thomas says he cannot hide anything and Kiil warns him not to.
Vik, who is the owner of Horster’s ship, pulls him up for lending his house to ‘enemies of the people’ and says he will hear from him in the morning.
Aslaksen then reads out the result and says but for one vote Doctor Stockmann is declared an enemy of the people, and the meeting is declared dissolved. Thomas asks Horster if he can find room for passengers to the United States and Horster says he will do this somehow.
As they leave, Kate suggests they leave by the back way, but Thomas refuses. He says he is not so forgiving as ‘a certain person’. He adds that he will not say ‘forgive you, for you know not what you do’. Aslaksen shouts that this is blasphemy and some voices are heard saying they will smash his (Thomas’s) windows and duck him in the fjord. Thomas and his family push their way through the crowd with the help of Horster and the act ends with the crowd chanting, ‘enemy of the people!’
Analysis – Act Four continued
The accusation that Thomas is ‘an enemy of the people’ is made stronger in this section as the crowd takes up the chant against him. This insult is founded on Thomas’s decision to act alone and because of his challenge to those in authority. It is both his individualism and his desire to speak the truth that have made him the enemy now.
The strength embedded in perceived public opinion is also highlighted once more here as the crowd unite against him and others falter in the face of it. Vik, for example, criticizes Horster’s decision to let Thomas speak in his home and Hovstad refuses to admit that he is in favor of freethinking (as he is afraid of upsetting the group). Thomas becomes the hero as he refuses to subordinate himself because of fear.