“An Enemy of the People” is a story of a man, Dr. Stockman, who finds out that the town’s spa is using bad water. As he is the spa’s doctor, he’s noticed that those who use the spa are contracting diseases associated with tainted water. He puts together his report and prepares to publish it. Problem is he’s not as politically astute as he is medically. The spa has brought the town from a sleepy backwater to something of a resort town. It’s lifted some of the poor into the middle-class and it’s helped the oligarchs maintain and build their power and wealth. Once the news gets out, readers are shown what happens to a whistle-blower who’s met with an unreceptive audience.
I tend to always root for the underdog. In this case it was difficult. Dr. Stockman is correct in wanting to call attention to the tainted water. However, I feel that he is overly confident (i.e. arrogant) and didn’t know how to read the room. Yes, the small town easily coalesces against him, but his attitude doesn’t help matters either. It made for a complicated reading because he almost turns into an anti-hero by the play’s end. This made me ask myself several questions. Is it always worth it to blow the whistle on something wrong? Even if it’s not worth it, should you? In the world today, does a whistle blower’s personality and demeanor have any bearing on how the audience receives what he/she has to say?
This is a quick, although uncomfortable read, and would be great for a classroom or book club to tackle. I would be curious to see a production of the play in order to see how the actors interpret the characters. In fact, I’d like to see several just to compare interpretations and compare them to my own.