An Enemy of the People: Act 5
Summary – Act Five
It is the following morning in Thomas’s consulting room and most of the panes are broken in the windows.
Thomas calls to Kate to say that he has found another couple of stones and she says he will probably find more. He asks about the glazier and Kate says he was not sure if he could get round today; Thomas thinks he is afraid to come. She then brings him a letter, which is a notice to quit and is from their landlord. The landlord states that he dare not do otherwise and does not want to offend ‘certain influential persons’.
Thomas says about them leaving for the high seas and shows Kate the hole ‘they’ have torn in his trousers. He questions the idea that those in the mob think of themselves as his equal. He says that he knows ‘over there’ will also be rampant with ‘solid majorities’ but at least things are not done by halves. He would prefer a ‘virgin forest’ of a small South Sea island and Kate says he must think of the boys. He questions this (and argues against growing up in a society ‘like this’). Kate points out that he contributed to what happened last night, and he defends himself by saying it was the truth and his words and ideas were turned upside down. He also says how ridiculous it is that these ‘so-called liberals’ declare they stand for freedom and progress.
Petra enters and tells them she has been dismissed. Her employer, Mrs Busk, said she dare not do otherwise. Mrs Busk showed her three anonymous letters she had received and two reported that ‘a certain man’ said Petra held ‘extremely emancipated views on various subjects’, and this man had been a guest in their home. Thomas says he hopes she did not deny it and she says she did not.
Horster then appears and tells them he has been dismissed from his ship. He tells Thomas not to worry, as there are plenty of other companies. Horster says Vik said he would have kept him on if he dared, and that it was not easy for him being ‘a party man’.
Peter calls and he and Thomas talk alone. Thomas tells him to keep his hat on to keep warm (because of the broken windows) and Peter says he will. Peter also says he thinks he caught a cold last night as he has been shivering. He then gives Thomas an envelope, which is his dismissal. He tells Thomas they dare not do otherwise ‘on account of public opinion’, and that he cannot rely on ‘any sort of practice’ here. Thomas asks him what makes him so sure and Peter says the Householders’ Association has started a house-to-house campaign. Its members are also being urged to not consult him.
Peter advises him to leave town for six months and then write an apology. Thomas asks if he would be re-appointed then or would public opinion still stop him taking him back on. They talk about rights and Thomas says there is only one thing in the world a man has no right to do, and that is to ‘play about in the dirt’.
Peter says this would sound plausible ‘if there were no other reason’ for Thomas’s ‘obstinate attitude’. He explains that he thinks Thomas believes he is in line to inherit a lot of money from Morten Kiil. Thomas says the little Kiil has is going to charity and Peter questions this. He says Kiil is wealthy and Kate and the children are provided for. Thomas says this is news to him and is pleased for them. He begins to shout for them, but Peter restrains him and says not to tell them yet.
Thomas does as he says and tells Peter it is unlikely Kiil will change his mind as he was delighted when he fell out with Peter and his friends. Peter responds by saying this throws a whole new light on things and accuses them of hatching a plot together. He continues and says the ‘violent and unwarranted attack’ of Thomas’s, ‘was simply the price you paid that vindictive old man for making his will in your favor!’
Thomas is dumbfounded at this and calls Peter ‘just about the lowest specimen of social muckworm’ he has ever come across. Peter says this is the end of their friendship and can consider his dismissal final. As he leaves, Thomas says he ought to be ashamed of himself and tells Kate to have the floor scrubbed after him.
Petra then enters and says grandfather is here. Kiil shows him a wad of papers and Thomas is astonished to see he has bought shares in the Baths. He says they were not difficult to buy today. He explains that if his tannery is the worst of the lot as Thomas said then his father and grandfather have been polluting the town for over a century. He continues and says he will not take that comment lying down. He tells Thomas he bought the shares with the money he was leaving Kate and the children. He adds that he wants to put a stop to being known as The Badger, as dirty, and wants Thomas’s help. He now wants to see how ‘mad’ Thomas is as if he persists in this theory of pollution coming from his works, ‘it’ll be just like stripping the skin from Kate’s body and Petra’s and the boys’’.
Thomas paces the room and says ‘if only I weren’t so certain about it’ and then says how surely science can provide an antidote or a germicide (to eradicate the pollution). He shifts at this point and decides to let them have it their own way: ‘After all didn’t the ignorant curs call me an enemy of the people – and try to tear the clothes off my back?’ He says he will speak to Kate, for advice, and says Kiil might be the devil. Kiil says he must let him know of his decision by 2pm. If it is ‘no’, the shares go to charity, and Kate will get nothing.
Analysis – Act Five
At this juncture in the play, Thomas is depicted as being tempted by the devil, as personified by his father-in-law Kiil (The Badger). By buying up shares in the Baths, which are now cheap following Thomas’s criticism of the water supply, Kiil is used to challenge the professed morality of Thomas.
This section is also of note for its critique of the power of public opinion. In a short space of time, the Stockmanns are given notice to quit their home, and Horster and Petra are made unemployed and each time the reason given is because the employer or landlord dare not go against the point of view of the majority.