I just finished reading this Ibsen play yesterday morning. I really enjoyed it.
The main problem is that Dr. Stockmann is too good. It’s unbelievable. I kept thinking that his intense single-mindedness would result in disaster… and not just the disasters that do befall him, but something deserved. To me, that’s how the play was structured, and it was a bit of shock when it didn’t happen.
After everyone has turned on him and his family, he’s saved from absolute ruin by some sea Captain who offers to take them in.
Ibsen wrote the play after being criticized for his frank talk about syphilis in his play Ghosts. Dr. Stockmann is an obvious playwright’s mouthpiece character, used to express Ibsen’s self-righteous fury at his critics. It’s like when Ani DiFranco writes one of those damn songs which is just a snippy response to something some dumb bitch has written in a magazine article about her.
The defining line of the play is: “…the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.” Which is funny, because the protagonist isn’t standing alone at the end of the play. Aside from the saviour sea captain, he’s also got his wife, daughter, and two sons (one more than the other: there might be a story there in the future) standing by him.
Despite this flaw, there’s still a lot of good stuff in this play, which has a bearing on us. Science versus financial interest, for one. Imagine that Dr. Stockmann isn’t concerned about the diseased water in the town baths, but the fact that the planet is warming. This play has never been more relevant.
Dr. Stockmann starts out as a man of science (who also happens to belong to the upper crust of the social order), who only wants to see the baths fixed, but by the end of the play, he’s a revolutionary, ready to tear down the existing system because the problem will not be fixed while it persists.
What I like is that the moral element that plagues the global warming question is absent. The moral element of the play involves telling the ‘inconvenient’ truth in the face of financial interest. There is a problem that the protagonist discovers and announces, expecting it to be solved. It doesn’t matter who caused the problem (though there is some mention that Dr. Stockmann had recommended the source be taken from higher up the mountain, I suspect that is done simply to avoid the argument that the mistake is Dr. Stockmann’s in the first place), simply that it exists and needs to be solved.
Similarly, with Global Warming, we simply need to acknowledge the problem and deal with it. The causes are only important inasmuch as they help us avoid disaster. My problem with the discourse on the subject is that the arguments from the environmentalist side always have this assumption that we are morally wrong and are expected to sacrifice and suffer, regardless of the necessity of doing so. Which is why solutions which would allow us to continue our life (e.g. energy use) as it stands, seem to be rejected out-of-hand.
Of course, the arguments from the other side are absurd, pretty much absolute denial flying in the face of empirical evidence, and are obviously linked to financial (and therefore political) interest.
Anyway, to get back on the subject of An Enemy of the People, I’m thinking of writing an adaptation at some point.
IDEA #1: Small Japanese mountain town in the 1950s. The doctor has returned a few years ago from his war posting with the idea of the baths.
IDEA #2: Make it about Global Warming, in a world where the social order is torn down and replaced with a meritocracy. Is it even possible? Is it interesting to write about such a Utopia? Or would it, in turn, become a distopia, run as much my statisticians as scientists?