An Enemy of the People
by Henrik Ibsen
Dr. Thomas Stockmann
There are lots of good things you can say about Dr. Stockmann, the protagonist of An Enemy of the People. He's generous with his neighbors, which we see clearly at beginning of the play when he welcomes a bunch of guests into his home for roast beef and a hot toddy. He also truly cares for his fellow man, and deep down inside he wants nothing more than to make the world a better place. Most importantly the Doctor is a man of principle, willing to fight for what he believes in no matter what the cost. His dedication is on display throughout the play, as he is steadily stripped of position in society, his home, and his job for refusing to be silent about the town's unhealthy, contaminated Baths.
Of course, there's a lot you could criticize about the Doctor as well. For one, he's totally impractical. It never even occurs to him to take into account the fact that his proposed renovations to the Baths will ruin the town's economy. Also, though it's easy to admire him for sticking to his principles, it should be pointed out that by doing so he places his family in a pretty terrible position. Stockmann's daughter, Petra, loses her job, and his sons are almost mobbed at school. The Doctor also willingly sacrifices his own job at the Baths knowing that it will cause his family to lose their major source of income. We do see Stockmann waver when his father-in-law, Morten Kiil, threatens to take away Stockmann family's inheritance. In the end, though, Dr. Stockmann refuses to give in, plunging his family into financial ruin.
Do you think it's wrong of Stockmann to place his family in jeopardy so that visitors to the Baths won't get sick? You could choose to view the Doctor as a naïve idealist, one who doesn't care about anything but his own abstract principles. On the other hand, you could view him as heroic fighter for truth, who battles dishonesty and corruption at all costs. Then again, he may be both things at the same time.
Dr. Stockmann is often criticized as one of Ibsen's more one-dimensional characters. This is probably true to a certain extent. It would be hard to argue that he is anywhere near as complex and conflicted as, say, Hedda Gabler or Gregers from The Wild Duck. Still, though, there is an essential conundrum at the center of his character. His battle for truth brings about destruction as well creation, despair as well as hope. It could ruin his beloved hometown and his family. Still…it's the truth, right?