An Enemy of the People | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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An Enemy of the People | Quotes


You have a deep-rooted tendency to go your own way ... that's almost as undesirable.

Mayor, Act 1

The mayor expresses a strong view of Dr. Stockmann's willingness to think for himself. This foreshadows the later conflict between the two of them.


Submit to the authorities whose job it is to decide what's good for society.

Mayor, Act 1

The mayor advocates for people to obey the authorities, which means to obey him.


It's a blessing to know ... you've been of service to your home town.

Dr. Thomas Stockmann, Act 1

The doctor genuinely wants to help the town and is happy his work is appreciated. This enthusiasm makes his brother's reaction in Act 2 much more painful.


The general public is happiest with the good, old, familiar ideas it's used to.

Mayor, Act 2

The mayor expresses one of his main disagreements with the doctor. Ibsen also uses the mayor to state what he views as the commonly held attitude of people in authority—an attitude he personally rejected.


You have no right to express ... an opinion which might ... conflict with your superiors.

Mayor, Act 2

One of the themes of the play is the question of whether a person has a right or a responsibility to speak an opinion when others disagree. The mayor argues the doctor, as an employee, has lost that right.


If a man has something ... worth hanging on to, there's a limit to what he can believe.

Aslaksen, Act 3

Aslaksen argues a person has to protect his possessions and his place in the world, which may mean sacrificing his beliefs if they pose a risk.


What is an editor's ... duty ...? Is it not ... harmony with his readers?

Hovstad, Act 4

Ibsen saw Hovstad as a bad journalist, and this is a false statement of journalistic values. In fact, Ibsen would argue a good newspaper editor would challenge readers, not stay "in harmony" with them.


All our spiritual springs are poisoned ... our society rests on the plague-infected soil of lies.

Dr. Thomas Stockmann, Act 4

Dr. Stockmann takes the idea of being "poisoned," which was a word he originally used to refer to the wells, and applies it to society as a whole. He expresses Ibsen's idea society is damaged by hypocrisy and false beliefs.


The most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom in our midst is the solid majority.

Dr. Thomas Stockmann, Act 4

Dr. Stockmann is infuriated when the townspeople side with the mayor against him, and he attacks the "solid majority" of people in the town.


Surely ... it can't be right that ... the stupid shall have dominion over the clever!

Dr. Thomas Stockmann, Act 4

The doctor is angry because the townspeople are too ignorant to understand his warnings. Ibsen uses the doctor to express his own frustration with people who are too ignorant or closed-minded to understand the issues he was raising with his plays.


The majority has the power ... unfortunately ...; but it doesn't make them right.

Dr. Thomas Stockmann, Act 4

Dr. Stockmann knows he cannot win because the town is against him, but he wants to make it clear the power to make this decision does not make them correct.


When a truth has lasted that long ... it's well on the way to being a lie.

Dr. Thomas Stockmann, Act 4

Dr. Stockmann argues accepted truths may become lies over time. This is particularly true in science, where new discoveries may invalidate old ideas.


The working classes are nothing but the raw material, from which a people will be fashioned.

Dr. Thomas Stockmann, Act 4

Dr. Stockmann expresses Ibsen's disdain for the "working classes," or the common people. Ibsen had been frustrated by the way his works had been rejected by "common" audiences, and he preferred a more intellectual audience, which had a better chance of appreciating his ideas.


A man who wants to destroy a whole society must be an enemy to everyone.

Hovstad, Act 4

Although the crowd has been hostile to Dr. Stockmann, Hovstad is the first one to term him "an enemy." This may be an effort on Hovstad's part to ingratiate himself with the mayor, or it could be Hovstad's demonstration to Petra of what happens when she rejects him.


The strongest man in the world is the man who stands most alone.

Dr. Thomas Stockmann, Act 5

The final line of the play expresses the doctor's strong conviction—and presumably Ibsen's as well—that a man who stands alone is more powerful because he is not beholden to the broader interests of society.

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