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An Enemy of the People | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Course Hero. "An Enemy of the People Study Guide." Course Hero. 16 Mar. 2018. Web. 30 May 2023. <>.

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Course Hero. "An Enemy of the People Study Guide." March 16, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2023.


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An Enemy of the People | Plot Summary

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Act 1

Dr. Thomas Stockmann and his family are entertaining guests at their home, including Hovstad, the editor of a local radical paper, and his reporter, Billing. He is briefly visited by his brother, the town's mayor. Almost everyone is excited about the opening of the new Baths, a health spa facility. Dr. Stockmann is the medical officer for the Baths, and he has concerns, but he refuses to tell anyone until he gets confirmation in a letter from the university laboratory. When the letter arrives, his concerns are justified: the Baths are contaminated with bacteria that will make people sick. Hovstad, Billing, and the doctor's family, particularly his wife Katherine and his daughter Petra, all celebrate this tremendously important discovery.

Act 2

Dr. Stockmann's discovery is not embraced by the rest of the town as he expected. He gets a visit from his father-in-law, Morten Kiil, who suggests the whole thing is a trick. Hovstad visits the doctor, along with Aslaksen, who prints the paper. They both praise Dr. Stockmann for his research, but Hovstad warns the mayor may try to delay the necessary fixes. Dr. Stockmann is confident this won't happen, but Hovstad is right. The mayor comes to see Dr. Stockmann and utterly rejects his conclusions. The mayor is concerned because the doctor recommended they relocate the water supply for the Baths, which will be extremely expensive and take a lot of time. The mayor orders Dr. Stockmann to stop talking about his findings, or else he may lose his job at the Baths. Although his wife wants to support him, she worries about how they will live without his income.

Act 3

At the newspaper office, Hovstad and Billing are excited because they think this issue of the Baths will help them get rid of local government officials they dislike. However, they are not truly revolutionary, and neither is Aslaksen. The mayor arrives and announces the townspeople, as opposed to the shareholders, will have to pay to fix the Baths themselves and it will take at least two years, depriving the townspeople of the economic benefits of the Baths. Immediately, Hovstad, Billing, and Aslaksen change sides, supporting the mayor and rejecting Dr. Stockmann entirely. The doctor insists he wants the public to know about his findings, but Aslaksen won't print it, and no one in town will rent the doctor a space to hold a town meeting. Outraged at how everyone has turned against her husband, Mrs. Stockmann takes his side.

Act 4

A town meeting is held in the home of Captain Horster, a friend of the Stockmann family. The meeting is manipulated by the town's leaders to limit Dr. Stockmann's ability to speak. Aslaksen and the mayor team up to nominate a meeting chairman, who ends up being Aslaksen himself. Aslaksen refuses to let Dr. Stockmann speak about the Baths, and he interrupts or contradicts Dr. Stockmann when he is allowed to talk. The doctor gets progressively angrier until he denounces the "stupidity" of the "common people" who cannot think for themselves. Dr. Stockmann calls himself a "freethinker" and is declared "an enemy of the people" and chased out of the meeting.

Act 5

The Stockmanns' rented house has been damaged by a mob throwing rocks. Their landlord kicks them out. Dr. Stockmann loses his job, as does the Stockmanns' daughter, Petra. The family makes plans to travel to America with Captain Horster, only to learn the captain lost his job because he helped them. In the midst of so much loss, the mayor visits. The mayor suggests the entire fuss over the Baths was just a scheme to ingratiate himself to Morten Kiil, the doctor's father-in-law, who has left a sizeable will to Dr. Stockmann's wife and children. This is not true, but the mayor seizes on the idea as a way to discredit Dr. Stockmann. Kiil arrives and tells Dr. Stockmann he has been using his fortune to buy cheap shares in the Baths, thus linking Katherine's inheritance to the fate of the project. Hovstad and Aslaksen arrive and also appreciate the idea of buying up cheap shares of the Baths and hint to the doctor they can help him—for a price. Outraged, Dr. Stockmann rejects all of them. He tells his family he refuses to move because he wants to stay and fight for his town against bureaucracy and ignorance. As the play ends, he is fiercely enthusiastic about his new life as a fighter, despite the obvious disadvantages it will present to the rest of his family.

An Enemy of the People Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 Dr. Stockmann discovers the Baths are "poisoned."

Rising Action

2 Hovstad and Aslaksen praise the doctor.

3 The mayor refuses to accept Dr. Stockmann's report.

4 Hovstad, Billing, and Aslaksen betray the doctor.


5 Dr. Stockmann is declared an enemy of the people.

Falling Action

6 Stockmann is falsely accused of making money off his report.


7 Dr. Stockmann refuses to leave the town.

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