Free «An Enemy of the People by Arthur Miller» Essay Sample

The play An Enemy of the People was originally written by a Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen and adopted by Arthur Miller for a Broadway musical. The story of Kirsten Springs disastrous failure to create spa became extremely actual in the 1950s. The protagonist of the story, Dr. Tom Stockmann, demonstrates all the characteristic features of a real scientist – he is accurate, precise and the things he only values are the fact and the truth. He is also a great humanist. When he finds out that mineral water springs he has discovered are full of filth and bacteria he does not hesitate to make an attempt to stop all the promotional campaign and let others know about the danger the springs contain. In this situation he reminds of Jesus Christ who also wanted people to refuse from their misconceptions. His position on the problem of the springs is clear – he wants everybody to know about it and to warn other people from coming to the place in the search for cure. The only argument he uses is absolute infeasibility of such kind of situation under any circumstance. Perhaps, he even feels himself somewhat guilty for the situation, as, for example, the inventor of the hydrogen bomb could feel after having learnt how his invention is being used.

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However, when Dr. Stockmann finds himself betrayed by his surrounding he starts behaving as Hamlet who has found out about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern treacherous behavior – he takes a very hard but life-essential decision to isolate himself and his family from the society which is treating him so viciously. Forbidding his children to attend school and asking them to find more companions for home study under his supervision, Dr. Stockmann demonstrates the most bravery and courage possible in the industrial and consumerist society: he refuses to be just a tax payer and news subscriber, and wants to raise independent and free thinking people out of his own children and street boys (p. 124). His strength, firmness, honesty and love for people, on the one hand, give him power to withstand public negation, but, on the other hand, these qualities push him and his family to the road of loneliness.

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The complete antipode of Dr. Stockmann and his antagonist in the play is the Mayor of Kirsten Springs, Peter Stockmann, who is also the brother of the protagonist. Being a high official, he is sincerely concerned about the town and its total non-remarkability and non-profitability. The discovery of mineral springs seems to be the only chance for the town to prosper. Among everything he says that one summer will be enough to turn Kirsten Springs into a new Carlsbad that will lead to the town revenue increase (p. 21). So, he is a very ambitious person and constantly underlines his role of a manager in creating the new spa resort (p. 22). Turning Kirsten Springs into a fashionable place visited by wealthy people all round the world seems to have totally grasped his mind and even to have turned into obsession. That is why he starts behaving as a capricious child deprived of his beloved toy as soon as his brother clearly demonstrates his intention to let the world know about the spring problem. Here Mayor strikingly resembles Cain, who was envious to his brother and decided to destroy him just because he was more handsome, talented and loved by more people. Approximately the same thing is done by Peter Stockmann: by prohibiting Thomas to make the information about spring pollution public, he totally destroys the soul and the spirit of his brother, which is very close to the actual murder. The attitude of Peter Stockmann to the spring problem is clearly stated: if the town (which means, the Mayor himself) needs the spa (to become prosperous, to provide some fame to the Mayor, etc.), it has to be launched notwithstanding any possible complications. The argument pro his position that he uses, is that it is absolutely inappropriate to spoil townsmen expectations and to ruin a brilliant perspective for such a trifle as polluted springs. There is no moral dilemma for the Mayor either: he doesn’t even discuss the ways to implement the reasonable solving of the problem, because it’s too expensive and time-taking. It’s much easier for him to participate in bullying his brother for bravery and honesty than to join him and to admit their common mistake. However, the Mayor chooses bureaucracy, and proclaims his brother a traitor of the society (p. 58).

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A very controversial position on the spring problem is demonstrated by Hovstad, the editor of the local newspaper who was first ready to publish Dr. Stockmann’s pamphlet on the poisoned spring, but then refused to do so. His initial interest in the true report publication can be explained by the fact that he does share the principles of speech freedom and free journalism as soon as the paper is opposed to the town government. However after a talk to the Mayor about the dreams and expectations of the society the newspaper and its editor suddenly change their opinion – it happens due to the hysteria created by brave and sincere announcements of Dr. Stockmann. Hovstad simply becomes worried for his own destiny and the destiny of the newspaper stuff which can be rater tragic due to the possible circulation loss (p. 117), that is why he does this little betrayal which turns so dramatic for Thomas Stockmann and his family. Accusing the scientist of pure egotism (p. 119) the journalist accidentally reveals his strong position of a person for whom his own calmness and comfort are much more precious than ‘humanitarian slogans’ (p. 119).

Generally, the ‘trilemma’, which Tom Stockmann faces, is really very hard to solve, due to the fact that any decision taken would inevitably affect the two other aspects in a negative way. In my opinion, first it is worth to trace which status – this of a scientist, this of a husband and a father or this of an employee – is mostly valued by Dr. Stockmann himself. I consider that the most precious for him is his status of a scientist as of an enlightener, which, as he definitely thinks, imposes some inevitable duties on him: he doesn’t even think of any other variant of behavior rather than to spread information about the poisoned and polluted spring. Local community turns to mean absolutely nothing for him and their business-like expectations don’t appeal both to his heart and mind.

The status of husband and father seems to occupy the second place in this hierarchy. Dr. Stockmann appreciates the opinion of his wife and children, although all major decisions on their life he prefers to take by himself. He is sorry to vow his family to poverty and total despise, though he does not demonstrate any clear intention to change the situation for better to his family. Curious here is that Tom Stockmann seems not to value his status of brother at all as long as his brother threats his conscience both of a human and of a scientist.

The status of an employee is obviously the least appreciated by Dr. Stockmann: being rather grateful for financing the creation of Institute but he fairly considers himself the key figure of the Institute stuff which. As he thinks, enables him to have and express his personal opinion on certain topics – the springs, in particular.

In fact, Dr. Stockmann is neither a traitor nor a hero. The overall situation shouldn’t be viewed just in terms of betrayal or heroism. It may sound like a paradox, but the scientist suffers, first of all, from the consequences of his own actions. If he had not advertised (without checking everything accurately) the spring so much to the municipal government, the town would not have stuck to the idea of spa resort creation so much. All in all, it is in vain to search for the right and the wrong in Kirsten Springs, but the story is didactic enough to draw some conclusions out of it. First, any idea singled out ‘for greater good’ is sure to have the backside which can reveal itself at any moment, sometimes in a very undesirable way, so all the possible results and consequences should be counted in advance. Second, scientific progress imposes on the humanity more and more responsibility for the ecological situation, and people should try and develop some environmental liability so that to estimate ecological issues more than anything else in their life, because good ecology means good health, without which any, even the most profitable projects, are simply nothing. 

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