An Enemy of the People: Act 5 Continued
Summary – Act Five continued
Hovstad and Aslaksen then appear at his house. Kiil leaves and Hovstad says how their hands were tied and could not do anything else last night. They ask him why he did not drop a hint about what was behind it all, and Thomas asks what they mean.
Aslaksen asks if it is a fact that his father-in-law has been buying up shares in the Baths. Thomas is amazed (at what they think) and asks them calmly what they want. Aslaksen informs him that now they know what ‘it’s all about’, they will put The Herald at his disposal. Thomas wonders if they are not afraid of public opinion. He then says he could only get The Badger to come in with him on scientific grounds. He says they will patch up a pipe here and there and it will not lose the town a penny.
Thomas asks what return he would want, for the use of the newspaper, and Hovstad says how they would prefer to ‘give’ their support, but the paper is not doing as well as it should. Thomas says he understands and then flares up and tells them how he is ‘an enemy of the people’. He asks where his stick is and then asks what will happen if he does not give them any money as rich people hate parting with it.
Hovstad reminds him that the business of the shares can be represented in two ways. Thomas says if he does not come to the rescue of the paper he will be hunted and hounded down, and Hovstad says this is one of the laws of nature (‘the law of self-preservation’). Aslaksen adds that an animal has to take food where it can find it.
Thomas responds by telling him to find it in the gutter. He says he is going to prove that he is the strongest animal of the three and brandishes his umbrella. He orders them both to leave by the window and Aslaksen retreats and asks for moderation.
Kate, Petra and Horster enter, and Hovstad and Aslaksen leave. Thomas writes the word ‘no’ three times on a card and asks that it will be taken round to The Badger. He then tells Kate they are staying in town and will start looking for a house as soon as she has mended his trousers. Horster tells them they can stay in his house.
Thomas then says how there is much to be done and fortunately he has time to do it now that he has been dismissed from the Baths. He says the poor will stick by him, in his practice, but they will have to listen to him, as he will preach. Kate warns him about this but he says he will not be beaten by public opinion. He also claims that the party leaders should be dismissed as they are like ‘hungry wolves’.
The boys come home early from school as the other boys started fighting with them. Mr Rorlund told them to stay at home for a few days and Thomas snaps his fingers and says they will never set foot in there again and they will learn to be ‘broadminded and courageous men’. He wants at least a dozen pupils to begin with and asks the boys if they know of any local street children. Morten says yes and Thomas is pleased and says they will go out later to see what they can find. He says this will be like ‘experimenting with mongrels’.
The play finishes with Thomas saying he will not be driven away and is the strongest man in town now. He goes further and says he is perhaps the strongest man in the world. He tells them he has also made another discovery: ‘And this it – the strongest man in the world is he who stands alone!’ Kate smiles and shakes her head, and Petra grasps his hand warmly.
Analysis – Act Five continued
Thomas’s morality is proven to be unquestionable by the end of the play as he turns against his father-in-law and the press. The laws of nature are this time cited against Thomas as the processes of self-preservation – and by default natural selection – are referred to explicitly by Hovstad and implicitly by Kiil earlier. The individualism of these men is seen to be in opposition to that offered by Thomas as is seen to represent a morality that prefers to fight for the common good.
However, it should also be noted that Thomas’s preference for the individual over the group is still permeated by an arrogance that is made clear in his decision to teach local children and compares this to experimenting with mongrels, and in the view that the strongest man is the one who stands alone. One may note the irony that as he says this his wife smiles in support and his daughter grasps his hand.