An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen
A Mass of Individuals: A Comparison of An Enemy of a People and Jaws
Henry Ibsen’s 1882 play Enemy of the People and Steven Spielberg’s iconic film Jaws both a address the same central theme: a power struggle between the needs of the individual and the needs of the majority. As Thomas attempts to persuade the citizens of the city to close the Baths, their economic livelihood, his argument evolves from a public-health plea to a barratement of a daft people, which he iconically labels “the tyranny of the majority.” Jaws, based on this play, centers around Sheriff Brody, a character who, like Thomas, sympathizes with the victimized individual. Brody, however, goes through significantly more inner-turmoil related to his decision, evolving into his decisiveness. In Enemy of the People, Thomas stands as the sole advocate for the needs of the individual, using a technical and increasingly-disdainful tone to communicate his argument and express his contempt for the “tyranny of the majority.” However, this style of argumentation, singular in its perspective and hostile in its appeal, simply alienates Thomas from his town and defeats his ultimate purpose of saving the people at risk. Conversely, in Jaws the champion of the individual is represented by Sheriff Martin Brody who derives his passion not from philosophical grudges, but sympathy for the shark-attack victims and obligation as the sheriff to save them. This multi-faceted, emotional, and protective approach by protagonist Brody, compounded by the presence of actual victims, effectively scares and, therefore convinces, the townspeople of the shark’s danger. Unlike Thomas, Brody effectively appeals to each individual within the majority, allowing each person, as a part of the masses, to prioritize their individual safety.
As the play goes on, Thomas’s language becomes increasingly technical, elitist, and accusatory, isolating him from the very people he is trying to convince and cementing his motives, ironically, as less about the victims and more about the principle. Brody, however, speaks less than Thomas and with more hesitance, empathy and awareness of the debate’s complexity, making his plight seem more legitimate. Beginning hesitantly, Brody cowes to the pressure of Mayor Vaughn and his townspeople, mislabeling Chrissie’s cause of death and opening the beaches. In the ferry-scene when the Mayor first makes his demands, the shot is taken from Brody’s point of view, depicting Vaughn’s clamoring, literally “in-your-face style” of persuasion (Spielberg). Then, after Brody has relented, the sheriff is shot from a high angle, portraying him as weak and vulnerable (Spielberg). This cowardice seems like it would make Brody ineffective and, originally, it does. However, somberly admitting days later that Alex’s mother “is not [wrong]” to blame him for her son’s death, this horror serves turning point for Brody’s assertiveness (17, Benchley). This linguistic evolution establishes him as a true protagonist and demonstrates his significant internal debate which gives gravity to his strong opinions. Furthermore, the presence of victims adds urgency and realism to his claims; ironically, without death he would not be so empowered prevent death.
This, perhaps, is the largest hindrance to Dr. Stockman’s argument: he has no victims. Unlike the shark, the danger of the baths still exists only in the hypothetical, making Thomas’s plight less impactful. However, to Thomas’s discredit, he fails to rebound from this ironic setback. Rather than using rhetoric to elicit the same fear for the baths that shark creates naturally, he consistently favors “I” and “we” pronouns over “you” — grouping the individuals separately from the masses (Ibsen). What Thomas doesn’t realize and doesn’t make the townspeople realize, though, is that the masses and the individuals aren’t separate. The people harmed by the baths will, inevitably, come from the masses. Too consumed by the one vs. many debate to recognize this, Thomas fails to appeal to the people’s individual fears and so his argument comes across as elitist and divided from the interests of the town.
Furthermore, as Thomas declares “Let the [majority] perish! Let the People die,” he personalizes the town’s unwillingness to accept his findings and makes his motives less about the victimized individual and more about one particular individual: himself and his disdain for the decisions of the People (72, Ibsen). Essentially, he sways from his original ernest goal to ward off sickness and argues for his unachievable dream of toppling the majority. Brody, on the other hand, maintains his focus on the shark and victims throughout. He does not philosophize his argument, but relates it to the townspeople. Instead of “calling for a lecture…about the facts” Brody speaks little and expresses his distress candidly as he solemnly listens to Mrs. Kintner and runs desperately to rescue his son (67, Ibsen; Spielburg). During both of theses scenes, the wallah-wallah quiets, as though Brody’s heartfelt dedication to the individuals quiets the demands of the majority (Spielberg). This perceived sincerity protects him the accusations of false motives that inflict thomas. More importantly, though Brody prioritizes the interests of the individual over the wealth of the masses, he recognizes that the masses are made up of individuals with fears as personal as his own; and his signs of genuine, personal concern (perhaps inadvertently) appeal to these very fears, empowering his earnest goals.
Furthermore, Brody never loses his sight of his purpose: a desire to save the people from the shark. And, by sticking to this cause, he legitimizes it. Thomas Stockman, in contrast, quickly devolves into philosophical accusations, repudiating “the People’s democracy” and ultimately destroying his original goal of saving the individuals (70, Ibsen). Brody begins with unassertive hesitancy, saying “We’re gonna try and use, uh, shark spotters on the beach” rather than closing the beaches and only progresses to assertive passion as he witnesses more attacks (17, Benchley). Death is his motivation. As a shark jaw frames the scene of Brody sailing off to finally accomplish his goal of vindicating the victims and protecting others, so too does the shark jaw frame his ultimate purpose: he wants to help the individuals at risk without straying to larger, more hostile propositions (Spielberg). Thomas, however, fosters his passion through disdain for the majority, not concern for the individuals. He attempts to assert his elitist superiority and “earned right to be called a [civilized] man” through his speech, rather than attempting to draw empathy or fear from the crowd (Ibsen, 69). Thomas may come to the conclusion that “he is strongest…because he stands alone,” but his goals ultimately fail (98, Ibsen). Brody’s do not, because he appeals to the majority rather than dismissing them. Though we never see the town’s relenting to the closed beaches and shark hunt, Mayor Vaughn’s frenetic insistence “that he was acting in the town’s best interest” suggests that he fears the people’s impending criticism (28, Benchley). In this turning-point the Mayor finally grants permission for the shark hunt and Brody’s emotional persistence — especially in the context of his own son’s danger — proves effective.
Jaws and An Enemy of the People each address the power struggle between the individual and the majority. Foils who both advocate for the needs of the individual, Dr. Thomas Stockman and Sheriff Brody Martin take drastically different tacks. Dr. Stockman uses verbosity, technical science, and eventually, hostile accusations to make his case. The Sheriff, who rarely speaks politically, acts with more hesitance and emotional involvement that ultimately wins him the argument. It must be noted the presence of actual victims (and gruesome, bloody victims at that) significantly aids Brody’s effectiveness in convincing the townspeople of the shark’s danger. For him, the challenge is only to assure that his language does not undermine the fear created by actual events and simply let the horror speak for itself. Thomas, though, must instill this same convincing fear through language based only off hypothetical danger and technical details, which the people largely reject in the face of conceivable misfortune: the destruction of their economic livelihood. Thomas’s language, however, remains divisive, dismissive, and generally unconvincing — as though his real goal is not closing the baths but asserting the supremacy of the individual. In the end, it may be Brody’s style that wins out, but as the similarity between these two works shows, the overarching power struggle between the individual and the majority continues to persist.
Literature Analysis – ” An Enemy of the People”
“ I think we must agree that fools are in a terrible, overwhelming majority, all the wide world over. But how in the devil’s name can it ever be right for fools to rule over wise men?” (113). This quote describes Henrik Ibsen’s philosophy towards the majority, which is also being portrayed as foolish and dangerous to the society. A theme of the story tells us that the individual who stands alone will be always stronger than the masses, for he has reached a point, unreachable for “. . .lower classes. . .”(116). In fact, Ibsen reveals it by showing us the importance of individualism, proving that majority is the enemy of the truth and freedom, thus emphasizing that individuals should never trust the masses.
Ibsen’s characterization of Doctor Stockmann, as one who represents the truth, shows us a power that individuals contain. Doctor Stockmann is portrayed as an idealistic person, aiming to improve the society’s well-being, even though no one asked him to do so. The first evocative example occurred when Doctor Stockman finds out about a bad Baths’ sanitary conditions and reports them to the Mayor. ” It would be dishonesty – a fraud, a lie, an absolute crime against the public, against society as a whole” (93). Doctor Stockman insists on informing about the bad condition of the Baths to the public, although the Mayor is trying to convince him to calm down; Doctor doesn’t acknowledge the lies… and stands out as an individual, committed to tell the truth, without worrying about his own reputation. A second example comes out when Stockman is rejected in publishing an investigative report in a newspaper, “ You think you can silence me and suppress the truth! But it won’t be that easy. . . I shall read it at a great mass meeting; all my fellow citizens shall hear the voice of truth!” (107). In fact, Ibsen characterizes the protagonist as a lonely stronghold of morality and truthfulness, in contrast with a vast majority that is “. . . poisoning the sources of our spiritual life” (114). Ibsen shows us one of the central themes… that individualism is an imperative that should be praised in a society, thereby contrasting it with the fact that the society is led by a tyrannical rule of “fools”(113), represented by a majority.
Ibsen’s portrayal of the masses reveals to us that the most dangerous foe to the truth and freedom is the solid majority. Throughout the story, Ibsen emphasizes that a vast majority is a dictator, as the leaders of the society are fixated on receiving its mercy and gaining its approval : “ The first thing that I saw was the colossal stupidity of the authorities… They are like goats let loose in a young orchard: They do damage everywhere; they block the path of a free man wherever he turn- and I should be glad if we could exterminate them like other noxious animals- “ (112). We clearly see that Ibsen emphasizes that the leaders of the society are powerless; they are not able to form beliefs and convey ideas. Instead, majority acts as a ghostwriter, writing a script for a societal direction. Second vivid example occurs, when the Doctor decides to act against the majority rule and truths. “ All these majority- truths are like last year’s salt pork; they’re like rancid, moldy ham, producing all the moral scurvy that plagues society” (114). Ibsen’s characterization of majority as an incapable to see the truth, “. . .ignorant. . .” (114), “. . .undeveloped. . .” (114), and foolish reveal to us the fact that “. . . the masses are nothing but the raw material that must be fashioned into a People” (115). In fact, Ibsen emphasizes that the only ones, who have a right to lead the public, are bright individuals, who stand alone, and are underrepresented however, still are wise and are in the right, for they have reached a point, which is unreachable for “fools”(113). “ It is, I and the few, the individuals, who are always in the right. The minority is always right” (113).
An individual, who trusts majority, will be infringed, for he has made the mistake, believing in the mirage. Throughout the story, Ibsen prototypes the fact… that majority always betrays an individual, when being told a message that contradicts to their lifestyle and beliefs. Doctor Stockmann, therefore, serves as a vivid illustration of an individual who suffers from the society’s apple, which is rotten on the inside. When Doctor discovers the Baths’ condition, he becomes somewhat naive, thinking that the community will be proud of his crucial discovery; he thinks that he will be declared a town’s hero, however, in a short time he becomes “ . . .an enemy of the people” (117). The masses insult the Doctor, thereby showing him who is the real dictator of this world. Ibsen, however, accentuates that this rejection makes him even stronger, despite the fact that he is condemned. “They may kill you, but they don’t put away you to slow torture; they clamp a free soul in a vise, as they do at home here. And then, if necessary, you can get away from it all.” (120). Ibsen underlines and evidently shows us that even after a rejection and betrayal, individual transforms into the strongest man of the world, due to the fact that he stands alone, living a life of a hope for the future.
Because of Ibsen’s usage of symbolism and characterization, he is able to produce a powerful effect that reflects on his own philosophy, which he implemented in the story. Evocative illustrations of individualism’s power, portrayal of the masses as a real threat to the truth and freedom, along with an indication that the majority always betrays an individual – all implies to the central theme that Ibsen is trying to show to us. By constructing a story in which we clearly see the rottenness of the majority, Ibsen leads us to the conclusion that only the individual who stands alone will be always stronger than the masses, because he reached a conscious point, unreachable for “. . .lower classes” (116).
An Enemy of the People – An Epistemological Crisis in Disguise
In An Enemy of the People, Henrik Ibsen dissects the social malaise that arises from democracy’s twin failures to sanction controversial scientific breakthroughs and to allocate liberty and sovereignty to the area of scientific research. In this way, Ibsen challenges the confines of democracy and its inability bring about justice, consensus and egalitarianism due to the preexistence of a social hierarchy that governs the town citizens. The townspeople have long been highly segregated along class and income lines, and yet they are communally united in their defiance and resistance to growth and progress. This demonstrates these people’s steadfast refusal to learn from their inadvertent mistakes in the past, like the the hazardous siting of the baths. Even though Ibsen’s play is anti-democracy in nature, Ibsen does not propose any other solution to the problems that arise in a country under democratic rule. He merely demonstrates the futility and pointlessness of democracy in a world that is defined by polar opposites. Ibsen illustrates this idea through his portrayal of Dr. Stockmann, an obstinate character who is not only a victim of his own idealism, but also his intellect. Dr Stockmann sees himself as a martyr and fighter who makes sacrifices for the benefit of the people. He believes that his bold and revolutionary ideals are potentially liberating and redemptive, not realizing that he is imposing his own opinions on the people and forcing them to accept his own viewpoints. He reasons that only thinkers and intellectuals are entitled to control public opinion and condemns the compact majority for their deference and submission to authority. He thinks he is in the position to decide for them what they fail to decide for themselves. Stockmann is not on the side of the lower and middle classes, as his adoption of Darwin’s evolutionist theory and belief in natural selection shows. Hence, it is ironic that he is fighting for the rights and enfranchisement of the townsfolk on the one hand, and promulgating and advocating inequality on the other. He perceives the social disarray as a corollary of the problematic genetic make-up that produces “little mongrels” (98), as he calls those citizens with opposing viewpoints. He contrasts them to a well-groomed “poodle” whose “brain will have developed quite differently from the mongrel’s” (79), thereby delineating a concrete, well-defined boundary between the judicious minority and the largely irrational compact majority. In his essay Technology and Democracy, Jacques Ellul argues thus, “Democracy requires that the people must be correctly informed. If the populace is to make sound decisions, it must have exact and relatively complete information… regarding the means employed and the dangers that might result” (44). Ibsen casts Dr. Stockmann as a figure worthy of his audiences’ respect and admiration, for he races against all odds to preclude the leaking of misinformation. He is determined to safeguard his ethical principles and moral responsibilities as a scientist in order to ensure the people greater impartiality, transparency and accountability. He disobeys his brother’s call to “issue some sort of statement” (40) to dispute the truth as uncovered by heuristic evidence and would “rather destroy” the town “than see it prosper on a lie” (82). Unlike his brother, who resorts to concealing and suppressing the truth out of self-preservation, Stockmann attempts to disassociate himself from the moral hypocrisy that revolves around people at the top, who he believes have no qualms about abusing their power to guard their own interests. However, his actions contradict his rhetoric throughout, which reveals his ambiguous political position as the sole scientist in the play. He is not representing the people out of pure altruism and generosity, as a sign of selflessness and benevolence, but without doubt, resorting to an unorthodox and alternative means of brainwashing the people. While he is clearly opposing the superficially myopic, dogmatic and illiberal standards established by the current political system, he is persuading the townspeople instead to conform to his own set of obscurantist doctrine. He is also more interested in defending the accuracy of his prognosis, and his own credibility, than genuinely helping the people. He is ultimately more concerned about maintaining his sense of pride and dignity. His conceit and self-righteousness cause him to persist in fighting to reveal the truth in order to satisfy his own inflated ego and prove to his brother that he is not a “miserable coward” (42). Besides, Dr Stockmann’s singular belief in the power of scientific advancement to circumvent the impediment of fear that results from political maneuverings causes him to overlook the true economic concerns of the common folks. The compact majority is overwhelmed with worries that they might incur the full costs of the economic loss if the pipes are to be re-laid, but the collapse of the baths in the long-term might carry tragic ramifications that are ephemerally dwarfed by the focus on short-term economic goals and material profits. Such a crisis would place the townspeople’s source of revenue in serious jeopardy because the baths have been sustaining their livelihoods. Furthermore, the value of the baths would be compromised and the accretion of the citizens’ effort in maintaining the reputation of the baths would be ultimately fruitless. The outbreak of an epidemic would also undermine the regimented stability that characterizes their societal structure. However, Dr Stockmann refuses to heed Hovstad’s reminder in Act II that his scientific discovery is inevitably “tied up” with other more intangible problems, and prefers to see it “as something quite on its own” (25). All he can see is a purely scientific problem even though it is clearly “a combination of technical and economic factors” (39), showing his limited understanding of how society operates and functions within a democracy. In an ideal democracy, it should be impossible to isolate and exclude external agents of change from affecting the human condition and intruding upon scientific discourse in the process of bringing about an internal transformation within the social edifice. Stockmann’s belief that science possesses the influence to override all other considerations is utterly naïve, showing his failure to see himself as a citizen first and a scientist second. It also demonstrates his lack of experience in lobbying for political support. Stockmann’s problem lies in his unawareness of the fact that diagnosing faults in the democratic political system with his purely scientific ideological beliefs is inadequate. In fact, not only does pure science alone fail to solve the problems posed by political maneuverings, an excessive belief in the dominant and all-encompassing power of science actually adds onto Sotckmann’s burden. He abides by Leo Marx’s definition of “the technocratic idea of progress”, which treats “the sufficiency of scientific and technological innovation as the basis for general progress” (37). He envisions a well-regulated and organically-modeled society that is intolerant of imperfection and favors himself as the civic symbol of authority, but is unable to connect with the citizens he is trying to influence without factoring in political dynamics. Ibsen, therefore, is emphasizing a need for a change in social attitudes, as well as a need for people like Dr Stockmann tolet go of their own own archaic ideals in order to move toward a more progressive form of scientific relativism that co-exists with social conscience. As a character, Dr Stockmann does not change much throughout the play in terms as far as his political education. Instead, he stays rooted to his place of birth, where “the battleground is” (103), due to his strong faith and conviction to the truth. As a result of that, he is trapped in a state of stagnation and is incapable of stepping out of his situation to institutionalize change in the town. He cannot alleviate the treacherous circumstances of the townspeople unless he learns to shift out of that conventional mold himself. His rhetoric is endowed with pomposity and affectation which illuminates his position as a cold empiricist and separates him from the people he is trying to help. Despite his grandiloquent, but ineffectual speeches, his refusal to engage the common folks at the proletariat level and address their true needs shows that his advanced ideals lead him nowhere and that he is doomed to failure right from the start. His opinion is that the common people should be silenced and relegated to a position where they are not allowed to participate in decision-making, for they do not know what is good or bad for them. Hence his harsh political belief that the minority should hold the key to decision-making is also instrumental in explaining the prejudices that he harbors against the compact majority, whose votes, he claims, could not be trusted. In sum, he does not see voting in a democracy as a right, but a privilege. In Dr. Stockmann’s mind, since people do not know how to make the right decisions, they should be stripped of that privilege to have a say. He wants to run and control every aspect of their lives for them since in his opinion, they do not have minds advanced enough to grasp these complicated concepts. This betrays his belief in an unequal society where the authorities, which are the minority, takes over and exercise monopoly over everything the majority possesses. The negative aspect of democracy is that it gives power to some sections of the population that lack an acute sense of discernment and fail to judge for themselves. Here, Ibsen shows the potential of public opinion to manipulated and exploited by the authorities in a democracy. Even though Dr Stockmann is disapproving of the state of affairs under a democracy, where the government often takes advantage of voters’ misplaced trust in them, his own behavior attests to a form of complaisance with the political system as well. He is in fact trying to re-educate the masses with his own set of beliefs and values, and by doing so, he is attempting to alter the views of the public, because he perceives them to be ignorant, and garner support for himself through means of ‘enlightening’ them. Even though he labels the compact majority as the “worst enemy of truth and freedom” (76), he ultimately has to resort to ways to pacify and appease them. Despite the fact that Dr. Stockmann is being politically repressed, his actions ironically stifle the voices of the populace to bring about muted consent to his own line of reasoning.Works Cited:Darwin, Charles. “The Descent of Man.” The Norton Anthology English Literature 8th ed. Vol. 2. Washington: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc 2006.Marx, Leo. “Does Improved Technology Mean Progress?” Technology Review (1987): 33-41.Ellul, Jacques. “Technology and Democracy.” Democracy in a Technological Society Ed. Langdon Winner: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992.