An Enemy of the People
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"An Enemy of the People" Summary

By Henrik Ibsen

plays | 99 pages | Published in 1999


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

The play "An Enemy of the People" by Henrik Ibsen explores the consequences of speaking out against public opinion and the corrupt nature of society.


Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People" is a thought-provoking play that delves into the complexities of truth, morality, and the consequences of challenging the status quo. Set in a small Norwegian town in the late 19th century, the play follows Dr. Thomas Stockmann as he discovers troubling truths about the town's main economic resource, its healing baths. As Stockmann strives to expose the dangers lurking beneath the surface, he faces opposition from various quarters, leading to a dramatic clash of ideals and principles.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview and Setting

The play is set in a coastal town in Norway, where the prosperity of the community depends on its healing baths. Dr. Thomas Stockmann, the medical officer and protagonist, makes a startling discovery that the baths are contaminated. Despite his intentions to safeguard public health, his efforts are met with resistance from town officials, business owners, and even his own family. The play explores the conflict between individual conscience and societal expectations, as well as the repercussions of challenging established authority.

Main Characters

Dr. Thomas StockmannIdealistic and unwavering in his commitment to truth and public welfare.
Peter StockmannThomas's brother and the town's mayor, motivated by self-interest and maintaining the status quo.
Katherine StockmannThomas's wife, who faces conflicting loyalties between her husband and the security of their family.
HovstadA newspaper editor who initially supports Thomas but later succumbs to political pressures.
BillingA subordinate at the newspaper, initially enthusiastic about Thomas's findings but easily influenced.

Story Points Over Chapters

Act 1

Dr. Thomas Stockmann discovers that the town's healing baths are contaminated due to industrial waste. He is determined to inform the public and take the necessary measures to rectify the situation. However, he faces opposition from his brother Peter, the town's mayor, who is concerned about the economic implications of the revelation.

Act 2

As Dr. Stockmann's efforts to expose the truth intensify, he finds himself increasingly isolated. The town's officials and business owners, including his brother, actively work to suppress his findings and discredit his reputation. Despite facing mounting resistance, Stockmann remains resolute in his pursuit of public welfare.

Act 3

The conflict reaches a boiling point as Dr. Stockmann prepares to address the townspeople directly. However, he is met with hostility and condemnation, with the public turning against him. Even individuals who initially supported him, such as the newspaper editor Hovstad, begin to distance themselves from Stockmann, succumbing to pressure and self-interest.

Act 4

Dr. Stockmann's family also grapples with the repercussions of his actions. His wife, Katherine, faces social ostracism, and the family's financial security is jeopardized. Despite the adversity, Stockmann refuses to compromise his principles, even as the town's authorities attempt to silence him through coercive means.

Act 5

The play culminates in a powerful confrontation between Dr. Stockmann and the town's leaders. Stockmann delivers a passionate and defiant speech, denouncing the town's collective cowardice and the suppression of truth. The play ends with Stockmann and his family defiantly facing an uncertain future, having chosen integrity over conformity.

Main Events

  1. Dr. Stockmann's Discovery: Dr. Stockmann uncovers the contamination of the healing baths, setting the stage for the conflict between public welfare and economic interests.
  2. Opposition and Isolation: As Stockmann attempts to disclose the truth, he faces opposition from the town's authorities, leading to his increasing isolation from both his family and the community.
  3. Public Backlash: Despite his noble intentions, Stockmann experiences a severe backlash from the townspeople, who turn against him, influenced by the manipulative tactics of the town's leaders.
  4. Family Struggle: Stockmann's family endures social and financial hardships due to his unwavering commitment to truth, highlighting the personal costs of ethical defiance.
  5. Defiant Stand: The play climaxes with Stockmann's defiant stand against the town's leaders, as he fearlessly articulates his unwavering dedication to truth and public welfare.

Themes and Insights

Truth and Integrity

The play delves deep into the theme of truth and integrity, highlighting the challenges and sacrifices associated with upholding these principles. Dr. Stockmann's unwavering commitment to exposing the truth, despite facing severe consequences, underscores the moral complexities of truth-telling in the face of resistance and adversity.

Individual vs. Society

"An Enemy of the People" explores the dynamic between individual conscience and societal expectations, portraying the inherent conflicts that arise when personal convictions clash with collective interests. Dr. Stockmann's struggle exemplifies the tension between individual autonomy and the pressures of conformity.

Power and Corruption

The play sheds light on the corrupting influence of power and the lengths to which those in authority will go to preserve their status and interests. The town's leaders' manipulation of public opinion and coercive tactics to silence dissent underscore the pervasive impact of power dynamics on truth and justice.

Consequences of Dissent

Through Dr. Stockmann's ordeal, the play underscores the profound consequences of dissent and the personal, social, and professional ramifications of challenging entrenched systems of authority. It prompts reflection on the price individuals pay when they choose to confront established norms and power structures.

Reader's Takeaway

"An Enemy of the People" offers readers a compelling exploration of ethical dilemmas, individual agency, and the complexities of truth-telling in the face of opposition. The play serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring relevance of moral fortitude and the enduring struggle between personal integrity and societal pressures.


Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People" presents a timeless narrative that resonates with contemporary audiences, delving into the timeless themes of truth, integrity, and the consequences of challenging prevailing norms. Through the compelling portrayal of Dr. Stockmann's ethical stand and the ensuing conflicts, the play offers profound insights into the human experience, making it a compelling and thought-provoking literary work.

An Enemy of the People FAQ

  1. What is 'An Enemy of the People' about?

    The play 'An Enemy of the People' by Henrik Ibsen revolves around the story of Dr. Thomas Stockmann, who discovers dangerous pollution in the public baths of his town. As he tries to expose the truth and improve public health, he faces opposition from the townspeople and local authorities.

  2. When was 'An Enemy of the People' first published?

    Henrik Ibsen's play 'An Enemy of the People' was first published in 1882.

  3. What are some major themes in 'An Enemy of the People'?

    Some major themes in 'An Enemy of the People' include the conflict between individual conscience and society, the nature of truth and deception, the role of the media in shaping public opinion, and the consequences of standing up against a majority.

  4. Is 'An Enemy of the People' a political play?

    Yes, 'An Enemy of the People' can be considered a political play as it deals with themes of power, corruption, and the struggle for truth and justice within a community.

  5. What is the significance of the title 'An Enemy of the People'?

    The title 'An Enemy of the People' reflects the irony of how Dr. Stockmann, who seeks to protect the public's health, is labeled as an enemy by the townspeople and authorities who are more concerned with their economic interests.