An Enemy of the People

An Enemy of the People Quotes and Analysis

As a matter of fact, 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 in the same thing; it brings us together.

Peter, 8

This quote encapsulates Peter's viewpoint and why Stockmann has no hope of prevailing. Peter, as an authority figure, knows that the world works best when there is no dissension. Conflict and iconoclasm and novelty are dangerous because they are destabilizing and exhausting. Peter does not have a problem, though, with paying lip service to certain ideals because he knows that it sounds better. He is quick to praise tolerance and openmindedness and freedom of expression, but only when they do not cause him problems. He is essentially a hypocrite when he speaks like this, but a keen understanding of Peter's character yields the sense that he is not so much a hypocrite as one who simply does not believe people should speak up if there is an issue.

Society, captain, is like a ship -every man should do something to help navigate the ship.

Billing, 14

This quote comes from Billing, Hovstad, and Horster's discussion about voting and civic participation. At the time of this quote, Billing's words seem very appealing. He suggests that democracy relies on participation by the people, who all have an important role to play. His suggestion that the captain needs to vote is evidence of that fact. However, Billing's words take on a more ominous note when looked at retrospectively -that is, after he and everyone but Horster turn against Stockmann and join with the rabid masses in their antipathy toward the proposal of changing the Springs. Now Billing's words smack of men joining together in a formless majority who blindly obey their "captain" (not Horster; this is figurative) and sail in whatever direction he asks them to. Stockmann in essence is leading an unpopular mutiny while the others blindly sail away.

Oh, there was nothing to it. Every detective gets a lucky break once in his life.

Stockmann, 19.

Stockmann's glee and satisfaction upon the discovery that his suppositions about the Springs are correct are in sad contrast to the rage and frustration he will feel when Peter, and eventually the rest of the town, disavow his findings. In these words, though, are also indications of some of Stockmann's own flaws. He is cocky and a little naive, clearly secretly hoping that the rest of the town will elevate him to hero status. He does not take the time to consider what his findings might entail in terms of rectifying the Springs' problems. Even though he is right, and is doing a service to the town by trying to keep them healthy, his lack of humility and naivete make him a difficult figure to deal with. 

By God, this is the best thing I ever heard in my life!

Morten Kiil, 22.

Morten Kiil seems like a rather harmless character at the beginning of the play, but he quickly becomes rather noxious. This quote is one of his amused statements in reaction to the first news of the scandal. He cannot believe that it is true; rather, he thinks it is a hilarious joke and that Stockmann is inordinately clever for trying to carry it out against Peter. This reaction not only provides some insight into the slippery Kiil (does he really think it is a joke, or is he already trying to protect himself?), but also offers a disconcerting foreshadowing of what Stockmann will face in the future -disbelief and not being taking seriously.

They're all rich -all with old reputable names and they've got everything in the palm of their hands.

Hovstad, 24.

This statement could come from any person in history who has ever opposed the entrenched elite and tried to fight back. Hovstad at this point places himself in a long line of individuals with radical opinions who think those in power are abusing that power and should not be guaranteed it based on their wealth and lineage. Hovstad's views seem to be in line with Stockmann's at first, or at least they are close enough to form a mutually beneficial relationship. However, Hovstad's passionate utterances about the corrupt rich bureaucrats of the town are not long held. In fact, he turns against Stockmann the most vociferously once Peter gets to him. Hovstad is revealed as a fraud and a hypocrite, and his character conjures up questions regarding how easily one can hold to unpopular beliefs before being manipulated into relinquishing them.

Isn't it time we pumped some guts into these well-intentioned men of good-will? Under all their liberal talk, they still idolize authority and that's got to be rooted out of this town.

Hovstad, 27.

Another quote from Hovstad pays lip service to that prevalent theme of the novel -regular, moderate men are often complacent and easily swayed by those in power. Of course, it is rather ironic that it is Hovstad uttering these sentiments, as he turns out to be one of those men, but it is still an important utterance because Ibsen is explaining just what is so problematic about most people: they find it easy to talk and pretend they have liberal ideas, but they are still privy to "idolozing" authority and going with authority when prompted. Stockmann is a rare figure because he cannot be cowed or bullied; he is the only character who decides to stay true to his beliefs even when it costs him almost everything. Clerly Stockmann's situation is not enviable, but he still demonstrates tenacity and rectitude.

You love your town when you blindly, spitefully, stubbornly go ahead trying to cut off our most important industry?

Peter, 33.

Peter uses this notion of Stockmann destroying the town multiple times throughout the text. His refrain is intended to get to Stockmann, the latter who has always professed to love the town and have a duty to it. Peter suggests that Stockmann will be doing more harm than good if he goes forward with his report on the Springs. Peter has somewhat of a point because the town will experience financial hardship and a drop in reputation, but he misses the point that Stockmann thinks that he I[is] doing what is best for the town. Duty is a complicated notion in this text, with different characters' interpretation of duty butting up against each other. Peter and Stockmann both think they have a duty to the town, but cannot reconcile their two versions of it.

Yes, but I have the truth on mine.

Stockmann, 34.

This quote is important for two different reasons. First, it is part of an exchange between Catherine and Stockmann in which she cautions him to be wary of Peter's power. He responds that he has truth and it is more powerful. This reveals a conflict between husband and wife, for she is more cautious and later tells him to remember his duty to his family, whereas he is bolder and brasher and does not seem to waver in his duty to the truth above duty to family. The statement is also important because it sets up Stockmann's central concern and the fount from which he draws his strength when nearly everyone is against him. He knows he is in the right, much like Galileo centuries before, and can only adhere to that because to neuter his own protests would be to compromise his principles. Stockmann does not get to be a hero in the way he originally intended -parade, dinners, universal love and acclaim -but he is one nonetheless.

Now God knows, in ordinary times I'd agree a hundred percent with anybody's right to say anything. But these are not ordinary times.

Peter, 54.

Peter continues to pretend that he values freedom of expression but in reality he prefers everyone to fall in line and defer to their leaders. His paying lip service to these tenets of democracy is generally successful when it comes to manipulating the masses, but obviously ring hollow to contemporary audiences and readers. His perspectives are not altogether unbelievable though, as many democracies suspend civil liberties during times of crisis. Peter tries to use that argument, saying these are not "ordinary times", but even that seems a bit off. It is not war, or a recession, or anything of that magnitude. Even though Stockmann has the reputation of being the off-kilter one, Peter is the character whose ideas are truly ridiculous.

If the only way I can be a friend of the people is to take charge of that corruption, then I am an enemy!

Stockmann, 75.

Here Stockmann finally embraces his role as the outcast, as the prophet, as the menace to society. He disavows his old life and prepares to live life on the fringes with only his immediate family, some scrappy kids, and one friend. What is interesting about this is that he is right -his findings on the water will eventually be borne out when people become sick. His services may be in need as he is a doctor, and if the town authorities want to combat the issue then they might need his original plan. Furthermore, the townspeople will all know that he was right the whole time, as his new status as an enemy of the people no doubt means putting his ideas out there into the world so people are forced to listen to them. Stockmann's future is unknown, of course, but he will either be vindicated or destroyed. There is no middle ground for people like him. He has made a courageous and perhaps foolhardy choice, and he stands as a testament to perseverance in the face of tremendous obstacles.