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Enemy of the People
Character Analysis & Reflection of the Play "An Enemy of the People"
Tom Stockmann -- This part is essentially the role of the scientist. Dr. Stockman is an idealist, secure in his scientific world that the right thing, as he defines it, will be done. Tom Stockman is rational if not pragmatic. He underestimates the power that money has over common sense, good sense, and sometimes any sense at all. Stockman's world view is that of medicine, a paradigm that demands its practitioners do no harm. While money from tourism would certainly be nice, Dr. Stockman is unable to accept the idea that there are citizens in the town who would trade good health -- perhaps even their own good health -- for money. Further, he doesn't understand why the authorities don't respond to his discovery and move forward with making the corrections to the pipes, in concert with his original suggestions. Dr. Stockman has right (times 2) on his side: he correctly identified the cause of prior illnesses and his position as a doctor demands that he respond to that situation, and he advised against placing the water pipes in their present position, a recommendation that, had it been followed, would have avoided the central issue altogether.
Peter Stockmann -- This part is essentially the role of the business enterprise. As the mayor, Peter Stockmann has the commercial well-being of the town at heart. He argues with his brother about the need to go along with the majority in decisions that impact the township. Further, Mayor Stockmann is perfectly willing to subvert the truth if it will further his cause, which in this case is the development of the bath project. The issue of water contamination is further complicated by the fact that the Mayor chose the locations for the pipes, and so is directly responsible for the contamination, particularly since he did not follow his brothers' more knowledgeable advice. The sibling issues between the two brothers are an interesting subplot that adds to the complexity of finding an acceptable solution to the contaminated water problem. Peter thinks that Tom is rash, impetuous, self-righteous, and impractical. Tom thinks that Peter is pompous,
Hovstad -- This part is the role of the press, a major player in freedom of speech. As a journalist, Hovstad has a vested interest in printing the news and building a reputation for seeking the truth -- and printing it. That said, Hovstad is not at all above being deceitful if it means that he can get good readership as a result. Hovstad tends to think of life in terms of a class struggle, and as he came from a poor, lower class background, he is unlikely to side with the town's elected officials and those who are most likely to achieve significant economic benefit from the opening of the baths. Like any good editor, Hovstad strives to take the pulse of the readership and ensure the future of his paper. While he may be uncomfortable having to come down off his own press pedestal, Hovstad knows that rhetoric will only sell papers if it conveys the messages that people want to read. Hovstad is left wondering if investigative journalism -- despite the portrait of a dashing dare-devil reporter that it paints -- is not be all it is cracked up to be.
What is the appropriate role for scientific experts in a democratic community? To what extent should citizens trust the experts? Are they obliged to learn enough about science to judge issues concerning pollution, the environment, nuclear energy, etc., for themselves? Does the right to vote convey a responsibility to learn something about public affairs? Does a special knowledge of science give a person the right to lead or govern? As global challenges increasingly require specialized knowledge in science and technology, wouldn't it be better if governments were run by scientists and engineers?
The dilemma that Dr. Stockman faces in An Enemy of the People has contemporary currency. As modern society becomes ever more increasingly dependent upon knowledge -- on science and technology knowledge, in particular -- the role of scientists and engineers must evolve sufficient to keep pace with and essentially lead change. But this growing responsibility carries a moral imperative. Doubtless, there has always been some tacit moral imperative associated with science -- as there is in medicine under the Hippocratic oath -- but the consequences of attending to or ignoring science are…[continue]
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