An Enemy of the People
What’s Up With the Ending?
Ibsen seems to be totally unafraid of laying his point on out there at the end of An Enemy of the People. The last few words our protagonist, Dr. Stockmann, go like this: "I am the strongest man in the town! […] I will go so far as to say that now the strongest man in the whole world" (5.304, 5.306). Why, you might ask, has the Doctor become so strong? Has he been working out? Did he get a Bowflex? Have gamma rays given him Incredible Hulk super strength? Not so much.
Dr. Stockmann goes on to explain that he thinks "the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone" (5.310). It's good the Doctor feels that way, because he's pretty darn alone. The entire town has turned against him, because of his refusal to be silent on the issue of the Baths and because of his harsh critique of the "damned compact Liberal majority," which he calls "The most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom amongst us" (4.89). Besides his immediate family and Captain Horster, the Doctor has no one. He's gone from most popular guy in town to public enemy in the span of only a few days. He's lost his house, his job, his influence…um wait a minute. What exactly makes him so powerful?
Even, though, in a lot of ways the Doctor is in a weak position, he's gained something that many people struggle to find: an individual identity. Almost all of Ibsen's protagonists struggle to form the very same thing. The Doctor's bold statement of the power of being alone is much like Nora Helmer 's famous slamming of the door at the end of A Doll's House. Whereas Nora was a woman struggling to establish herself in the world of men, the Doctor is an intelligent man trying to establish himself in a world of fools. In a letter to a critic, Ibsen wrote, "I maintain that a fighter at the intellectual outposts can never gather a majority around him" (source). It seems that by the end of the play, Dr. Stockmann has become just such a fighter. He's a man unafraid to stand alone in the crowd and make his voice be heard.