An Enemy of the People: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. ‘...There’s as fine a spirit of tolerance, mutual understanding and fair-mindedness here in this town as you’ll find anywhere’(Act One p. 3) Here, Peter expounds his belief that the citizens of this town are imbued with tolerance and understanding, and the inherent irony of this suggestion becomes evident only as the play progresses.
  2. ‘It’s almost like standing on the threshold of a new era ...’(Act One p. 7) In this reference, Thomas’s optimism for the town and its citizens is expressed and it is apparent that both Thomas and Peter find the concept of progress as possible and necessary for the future.

  3. ‘You’ve heard me say this before: it’s the duty of the individual to subordinate himself to society, or to be more precise, to the municipal authorities in charge of our civic welfare!’(Act One p.9) Peter explains the tenets of his belief in how members of society should work together. This concept of subordination to the group is the one that the play rails against most often.

  4. ‘The public doesn’t want any new ideas. The public’s better off with the good old established ideas it’s been used to.’(Act Two p. 38) In this quotation, Peter questions ideas of change and progress and through his words the public is depicted as conservative and resistant to modernity.

  5. ‘Sheer imagination, or even worse! The man who can make such vile suggestions about his own town is nothing but an enemy of the people.’(Act Two pp 42-3) This is the first of several references to the title, and each time Thomas is the one being singled out as the eponymous enemy. At this point, Peter invokes this insult as a challenge to Thomas’s declaration that the ‘source is poisoned’ and ‘the whole of our flourishing social life’s founded on a lie’.

  6. ‘Doctor Stockmann talks about the baths, when all the time he’s aiming at revolution!’(Act Four p. 74) Aslaksen’s often professed love of moderation is referred to once again as he tells the people gathered that he regards Thomas as a would-be revolutionary. It is strongly suggested, therefore, that Aslaksen’s love of moderation means that he regards those that want change (even when it is for the better) as a danger to society.

  7. ‘The majority has might, unfortunately – but it hasn’t right!’ (Act Four p. 80) In this reference, Thomas expands on his view that the majority should be challenged as the ‘minority’s always right’. This is a straight forward attack on the failings of democracy, and understandably causes further uproar in the room.

  8. ‘I’m in revolt against the lie that truth is always vested in the majority!’(Act Four p. 81) Thomas is used to further undermine the accepted view (by the majority in democratic societies) that a point must be truth if the majority believe it. Here, then, Thomas is used to question democracy and to remind us that it is not a failsafe system.

  9. ‘It’s just that the mob, the rabble, should dare to attack me like that, as if they were my equals – that’s what riles me!’(Act Five p. 93) Thomas’s disdain for the masses peaks in this quotation and it is worth considering here how his politics comes perilously close to being even more hierarchical and rigid than those he professed to challenge (such as the views of his brother).

  10. ‘And this is it – the strongest man in the world is he who stands alone!’(Act Five p. 114) The last lines of the play are reserved for Thomas and it should be remembered that there is an element of irony here as the arch-individualist is at this moment supported by his loving wife and daughter. At the same time, the point is also made that it is honorable and even heroic to oppose the group when it is morally necessary.

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