An Enemy of the People: Theme Analysis

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Corruption

Corruption is a central thematic concern of this play and it is evoked through the depictions of the workings of the council and of the press. The council is represented by Peter, because as the Mayor he is the leader and spokesperson for this body, and the manner in which he is prepared to sideline Thomas (his brother) for self-preservation emphasizes how corrupt this municipal authority is.

Local government is criticized along with the press and when Peter is seen to easily coerce the press, as represented by Hovstad and Aslaksen, it is evident that the power of both is seen to be manipulated by those in control.

Failings of Democracy

The viewers and readers of this play are asked to consider the failings of democracy. This reading is made available through the overt criticisms of a local authority, which is a democratically elected group, and through the actions of the mob that refuses to listen to an individual voice. In a democracy, the majority rules – as comes with the rule of the people – and here we invited to consider how the majority could potentially ignore or stigmatize the individual who does not conform.

The power of the ‘solid majority’ and the fear of the individual in upsetting this group are highlighted most notably when Thomas is seen to stand alone against the voices at the meeting he holds. Here, he speaks out and goes as far as to insult the group and those gathered then turns against him.

The fear of opposing public opinion is related to this and is the given reason why Petra, Thomas and Horster are sacked and why the Stockmanns are told to leave their address. Public opinion is depicted, therefore, as a form of threat and a weapon to wield if somebody chooses to be independent.

Pollution

Thomas’s discovery that the water supply is polluted is the trigger that brings about his ostracism from his work colleagues and brother, and eventually from the majority of those in the meeting he holds. Pollution is drawn upon both thematically and figuratively, as it symbolizes the effects of corruption in the town, and is also a sign of how this play engages with the effects of modernity.

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