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An Enemy of the People

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Submitted By mboyd102
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Truth, in the dictionary, is defined as “a statement proven to be, or accepted as true; a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle.” This definition alone lends to the idea of there being an absolute truth. Absolut truth is something that is proven and indisputable. Just because it’s proven to be true, however, doesn’t mean that people have to accept it. In Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People, we see how the method of telling the truth, not the truth itself, can be ignored and twisted based on what one wants to believe. The method for telling the truth in An Enemy of the People is Dr. Stockmann. He has scientific proof that the baths are polluted and causing people to become sick. This is the truth, but we see how people such as the mayor and Hovstad are able to slander the doctor in order to hide the truth. That is the key point. The truth remained the truth throughout the entire play. The actions of the mayor and the other main characters prove that they accepted Dr. Stockmann’s findings as true. They, however, chose to ignore the truth for their own benefit. This leads to the question of: is the truth evaded when it becomes inconvenient? The answer is absolutely yes. While the truth may be absolute, it can be evaded rather easily. A common reason to evade the truth is for self-interest as seen in An Enemy of the People. Hovstad, Billings, and Aslasken were quick to accept the truth when it best suited their plans, but as soon as their business was threatened, they turned their back on the truth ultimately siding with one of the very people they initially were planning to unseat, the mayor. This greed and fickleness of human nature is often what helps prevent the truth. Not only was the truth evaded, but in this case it was completely kept from the general public, and it was done easily. In the play, Dr. Stockmann is verbally attacked to keep the truth from getting out. This is a tactic commonly used by the media and politics to hide the truth. This same method was used when news first got out about the death of Osama Bin Laden. The politicians used the media to say that this mission was done without senate approval, and until they saw a body it wasn’t true. The truth was that he was dead, but what we saw was political parties and media saying other things to distract from the truth. This is the same thing that we see in the play. Dr. Stockmann is discredited for his previous eccentric ideas, and social status before his job with the baths. This distraction made it easy for the common people to ignore the fact that they never learned the actual truth. This is also how we see the media being a weapon for trickery. The newspaper in the play is all about keeping money, and telling the people what they want to hear in order to get sales. This is a common mistake of the media that covers up the truth. Telling people what they want to hear is not the same as telling them what they need to know. People don’t always want to hear the truth but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be told. The duty of the media should always be to tell the truth. When media plays such a huge part in how people gather their information, the truth should be what is given. Instead we see, in the play and real life, that politics and media are so mixed that the truth is sometimes overshadowed. This is seen in the case of the 2012 Hurricane Sandy. The truth was that a huge storm was coming, and it had the potential (and did) to cause mass deaths and destruction. What we saw in the media was this fact being overshadowed by politics. The news was about how the hurricane would affect the election and what would the Romney campaign do now after stating that they were cutting FEMA. The truth about the destruction was put on hold until after the election, and then we heard of relief efforts and how to help. This type of news media is failing in their duty to the public. The focus shouldn’t be on what story we can make that will get the most sales. The focus should be on what story we can tell that gives the public the most accurate and truthful information possible. The interconnection of media and politics is often what hinders the wellbeing of society. While the play doesn’t go into detail about what is polluting the baths, we can imagine that it is something that will be dangerous for the town’s inhabitants. This truth is never actually revealed to the townspeople. The truth is kept within a small group of people who actually know and are trying to keep it under wraps for their own purposes. For the newspaper it was sales, for the mayor, however, it is political power. In the beginning of the play we can see the mayor’s envy of his brother quite well. This later plays out in the play when we see that the mayor is trying to defame his own brother. Instead of doing what is best for the town, the mayor is doing what is best to keep the public from seeing he made an error in the construction of the baths, and that Dr. Stockmann is the one who tried to prevent and fix the error.
Under the context of maintaining the economy for the “good of the town,” the mayor is able to completely evade the truth. This is a common problem we see today, especially when dealing with the economy. In the case of the market crash in 2008, it is very obvious that some truths were being kept from the public. Instead of being told of the imminent crash of the housing market, the public was blind on the corrupt dealings of Wall Street execs that were helping themselves out of the situation, but not anyone else. Until the market actually crashed, the general public had no clue how bad the economy was. We see in the play and in real life that politics is an easy way to avoid the truth. So what exactly is the responsibility of political leadership?
Political leadership has the sole responsibility of doing what is best for the people despite any personal ramifications. The mayor in An Enemy of the People wanted to stay in good favor of the public, but to do so he endangered them by not revealing the pollution of the baths. This need for personal gain should be absent from political leaders. So many problems such as corruption occur when political leaders are self-serving. This is seen in gerrymandering. Political leaders are able to basically change the boundaries of their districts to get more votes in their favor. This type of self-interest is what leads to more problems for the public. Political leaders have a duty to protect the commonwealth of the people they represent. When this is not done, there are ramifications not only for the public, but for the leader as well. The mayor failed in his duty when he chose to serve himself instead of looking into the pollution of the water that could cause harm to the public.
As individual there are also some responsibilities that are important. As an individual, community is important. In the USA, duty to community means duty to the democracy. It is our duty as an individual to do what is best for the community. That includes following laws, voting, and anything else that will benefit people as a whole. In the play we can see how Hovstad, Aslasken, and Billings all failed in their duty to the community. Their intentions were never good for the community to start with their planning to cause an upset of the leadership. They completely failed in their duty when they chose to ignore the doctor’s findings, and instead do what they chose as best for themselves. Dr. Stockmann while trying to do his duty to the community also failed. He allowed himself to be distracted by personal feelings and needs. The doctor let anger consume him and his new goal was for vindication, not the health of the people. In his rant during the public meeting Dr. Stockmann failed in his duty to community by insulting the entire community. He lost sight of telling the truth about the baths and instead focused on retaliation against personal attacks.
What about duty to self and family? As individual one’s duty to self and one’s duty to family are closely related and very difficult to balance. As we see in An Enemy of the People, one’s duty to self can interfere with one’s duty to family. Dr. Stockmann said that he could not look his children in the eye if he didn’t fight for his cause. In this situation his duty is to vindicate himself, and do what he knew to be right. While this is admirable, the doctor was naïve to believe that only he would feel the ramifications. As seen by Morten Kiil’s offer, the entire Stockmann family had much to lose. Petra lost her job, the boys got put out of school, and Dr. Stockmann is out of a job. Sometimes one may have to put duty to self on the back burner so that family is taken care of. This is not an easy thing to do. People often want to stand up for their beliefs and do what is right, but they may be endangering their family by doing so. The question becomes what are you willing to sacrifice, and for some the answer is everything while other say nothing. That is the real question that often is left unanswered in society. In a search for the truth what are you willing to sacrifice? The answer to that question is best left up to the individual.…...

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