An Enemy of the People

An Enemy of the People Summary and Analysis of Act III

Act III  

Stockmann and his family are at home, cleaning up rocks people had thrown through their windows. It seems the glazier will not come to fix their windows, and, as Stockmann realizes when he reads a letter, their landlord evicted them. He tries to comfort Catherine that they will be happier in America but she is unconvinced.  

Petra comes home and announces she lost her teaching job because her supervisor received anonymous letters, one stating that she had radical ideas.  

Horster comes in. He is friendly, asking how the family is doing. His news, though, is not good –the ship will sail for America but he will not be on it because he was removed from his position. He says he will find another, but it seemed like the owner was a political ally of Peter.  

Peter himself arrives at the house, and he and Stockmann converse. Peter gives his brother a letter that fires him from the Institute. Stockmann accuses his brother of wanting to ruin him, but Peter admits he thinks it has gone too far. However, he adds that he thinks this will all go away if Stockmann will sign a statement apologizing for going overboard.  

Stockmann scoffs that his brother still does not understand that there are men one cannot buy. Peter retorts that he does not seem to be one of those men, and explains that Morten Kiil had gone about buying up cheap stock in the Springs last night after the meeting. Stockmann is perplexed and said he knew nothing about it, but Peter is hostile and does not believe him. He says he will draw up charges of conspiracy against Stockmann if he has to.  

Incredulous and irate, Stockmann starts yelling about that a maid needs to clean the room of such pestilence. Peter leaves and Kiil enters afterward. Stockmann confronts him on this and Kiil explains. His tannery, the one passed down through his family, is above the Springs and is responsible for sullying them. He used the money that he was setting aside for Catherine and the family as an inheritance to buy up stock. His hope is that Stockmann will clear his name, but he still thinks his son-in-law's theories about poison are crazy.  

Stockmann is aghast that his father-in-law would do this and tries to explain about the science behind the testing. Kiil nettles him, trying to get him to admit he could have even the slightest doubt about the tests' veracity. He insinuates that Stockmann was only doing this to get back at his brother.  

Stockmann says this is ludicrous, and that he cannot believe Kiil gambled away his family's future. After more harsh words, Kiil leaves.  

Hovstad and Aslaksen enter. Stockmann gruffly tells them he has a lot on his mind and they should get to the point of why they are there. In essence, they want the Doctor to help fund their paper and they will support him. However, when Stockmann mentions the tax they get annoyed and say that the paper and the town would be bankrupted. Stockmann does not budge, and mocks Hovstad for wanting to be a hero. Hovstad becomes incensed, and calls the Doctor a "madman" who is "insane with egoism" (74). He prepares to leave, and Aslaksen nervously leaves a proposed budget for the Doctor to look at.  

At that moment Stockmann's sons come in. Morten was beaten up because other students called his father a traitor and he would not stand for it. Stockmann tries to comfort his son, and tells the newspapermen to leave.   He officially announces that he is an enemy of the people. He says, "If the only way I can be a friend of the people is to take charge of that corruption, then I am an enemy!" (75). Hovstad asks in amazement if he knows where this will end.  

Stockmann rages on –he is not a hero, he is an enemy of the people and he will do everything in his power to tell the truth even if the people must bleed for it. The other men leave, in shock, and Stockmann gathers his family close. He tells them they are besieged but will not retreat. The boys will stay out of school and he will teach them. They should find about twelve street kids too.  

Stockmann pauses, almost about to say that Kiil should be told, but realizes they are all alone. A rock crashes in the window. Catherine is frightened, but Stockmann says that they have the truth, which makes them strong, and they must get used to being lonely.  


In this last act, Stockmann moves from desiring retreat to hunkering down for the long run, the townspeople demonstrate further the tyranny of the majority, and family itself is revealed a complicated construct.  

The townspeople’s behavior in the aftermath of the lecture is reprehensible. They act almost ludicrously, given the fact that they never even bothered to listen to Stockmann’s report in the first place before they judged whether he was wrong. They resort to violence and threats, Petra is fired, and they are evicted. Even the neutral Captain Horster is affected; he cannot be captain of the ship anymore due to his association with the “enemy of the people.” Morten and Eljeh experience slurs and fighting at school. As mentioned in the previous analysis, it is no wonder Arthur Miller was attracted to this play. His own era of the 1950s featured a pervasive and hysterical fear of Communism, with backstabbing and rumormongering and “witch-hunting” common at all levels of society. Most Americans in this majority had allowed themselves to be misled and riled up, which is something Miller addresses in perhaps his most famous work, The Crucible.  

Miller’s comments regarding what he saw as Ibsen’s message are particularly accurate: “[it is] the question of whether the democratic guarantees protecting political minorities ought to be set aside in time of crisis. More personally, it is a question of whether one’s vision of the truth ought to be a source of guilt at a time when the mass of men condemn it as a dangerous and devilish lie.” To some extent, the issue regarding the Springs in the play does not seem like a “crisis,” but, to be fair, the town would slip back into the ignominy and poverty it once experienced.   Scholar Susan C.W. Abbotson writes of the majority-minority conflict in her article on the play: “the bureaucrats who run the town [are depicted] as authoritarian and narrow-minded and fully prepared to sacrifice the individual for what they determine to be the good of the whole. Tolerance of other opinions only extends as far as the dissent remains unproblematic.” Peter says almost this very thing himself at the beginning of the play when he notes, “I happen to admire the spirit of tolerance in our town –it’s magnificent. Just don’t forget that we have it because we all believe the same thing; it brings us together” (8), and, later, “The individual really must subordinate himself to the overall –or more accurately to the authorities who are in charge of the general welfare” (12). These views are not altogether surprising coming from an authority figure, but it is indeed disturbing how quickly the majority falls in line to support them.  

As for Stockmann, he has two choices by the end of the play: agree that his earlier assertions were misguided and subsequently fall in line, or stick to his views even when it means he will face extreme persecution of himself and his family. Stockmann chooses the latter, and he truly does face a staggering array of obstacles: he has no job, no home, his children are threatened, his reputation is destroyed, his friends are gone, and he is viewed as a dangerous threat to society when all he desired was to help the town. His position demonstrates how being in the right can often translate to being hated, to being an outsider, to living a difficult, straitened life. He claims at the end of the play that because he has truth he is alone, and because he is alone he is strong. There are almost religious resonances in this last statement, and, coupled with Stockmann’s request for twelve kids to start, he ends the play as a martyr figure, sacrificing himself on the altar of truth.  

Finally, a small note on family: while Catherine and Petra and the boys prepare to wait out the tension in the town with Stockmann, two other family members prove that blood is not thicker than power or reputation. Peter and Morten Kiil both desire to preserve their reputations at all costs, and even though they might know deep down that Stockmann is right, they cannot bring themselves to lose power, money, and prestige. Despite the fact that Peter is Stockmann's brother and Morten Kiil is Catherine's father, blood proves of little weight when these issues are at stake. It is a lamentable reality, but Ibsen clearly wants to depict the allure of power and prestige.