Enemy of the People Term Paper

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Ibsen / Public Health

Write about the Public Health ethical issues involved in the play

An Enemy of the People is a play in five acts, which depicts a public health crisis in a small Norwegian town. The protagonist is Dr. Stockmann -- he is a physician in this town, and his brother Peter Stockmann is the mayor. As the first act begins, we hear the mayor talking with the newspaper editor Hovstad about the new "baths" which are nearly complete and which promise to attract a large tourist trade to the town. Meanwhile we learn that Dr. Stockmann has suspected these baths of being polluted -- he receives a letter with the results of laboratory analysis, confirming his suspicion. We also learn that Stockmann's own motivation here may come from a lingering resentment -- he reminds the mayor and the others that he himself had proposed a different drainage system before the construction had started:

Dr. Stockmann. Ah, you remember, Petra -- I wrote opposing the plans before the work was begun. But at that time no one would listen to me. Well, I am going to let them have it now. Of course I have prepared a report for the Baths Committee; I have had it ready for a week, and was only waiting for this to come. (Shows the letter.) Now it shall go off at once. (Goes into his room and comes back with some papers.) Look at that! Four closely written sheets! -- and the letter shall go with them. Give me a bit of paper, Katherine -- something to wrap them up in. That will do! Now give it to-to-(stamps his foot) -- what the deuce is her name? -- give it to the maid, and tell her to take it at once to the Mayor. (Ibsen 20).

As the first act closes, Stockmann is briefly -- and ironically, in terms of what happens next -- hailed as the town's savior.

In the second act, various characters come as representatives, essentially, of interest groups. The journalist Hovstad approaches Stockmann because he is interested in using the story of the baths to discredit the current government (including Stockmann's brother). The Chairman of the Homeowners Association approaches Stockmann next, and offers support while at the same time emphasizing the need to keep the peace in the town. (Presumably real estate value hinges upon a town's reputation for lack of incident.) The mayor meanwhile is furious at his brother for having conducted the chemical analysis without consulting the town government first. Then he basically tells Stockmann that -- for various good and credible reasons -- he thinks it necessary to sweep the whole issue under the rug, so to speak. The economic cost, the political cost, and the overall difficulty of instituting positive change all mean that it is impossible to implement Stockmann's proposed fix. Dr. Stockmann is enraged, and in Act Three he approaches Hovstad at the newspaper's office. But as soon as he exists, the journalist and the Homeowners Association president both discuss their motivations for supporting Stockmann -- none of which have to do with public health, but which instead hinge on questions of political revenge. But in the Fourth Act, a large public meeting is being held to discuss all the issues, and here Dr. Stockmann fails very badly: his anger carries him away, and he blames not the government nor the interest groups but the "majority." He goes on to express various views which seem almost proto-fascist, at which point the newspaper editor proposes that Dr. Stockmann be voted an "enemy of the people" and the mob votes unanimously in favor. In the final act, we see Dr. Stockmann at home: his windows have been broken by the stones thrown by the mob, and his landlord has issued a notice of eviction. Dr. Stockmann ends the play by deciding to transfer his medical practice to charitable work among the poor: his social role with these townspeople is at an end, as far as he is concerned.

The ethical issues laid out by Ibsen range from the relatively straightforward to the complicated. For example, the conflict of interest evidenced by most of the town leaders -- such as the newspaper editor -- is fairly direct. The newspaper editor is less interested in the actual effects of the crisis and demonstrates relatively little interest in the fate of those who are poisoned -- since they will be tourists and out-of-towners, they do not constitute his core readership in any case, so he has little economic interest in their health or well-being. But in reality he reveals that his motivations are primarily political -- he is not interested in the public health crisis for what it represents, but rather for a political bargaining-tool whereby to press the advantage of his own partisan interests. Stockmann's brother the mayor, however, presents a far more complicated ethical dilemma. Again, to a certain degree he shares the newspaper editor's lack of concern for the possible victims of the contamination, who will be the tourists using the baths. But the mayor is also willing to offer practical reasons why this cannot be accomplished, for reasons of simple economy.

Ultimately Stockmann's rant at the public meeting in which he blames the "majority" comes from his sense that the ethical implications of a public health crisis like the contamination at the baths implicate us all. To a certain degree, that is what Ibsen means us to understand: the effort to cover up or rewrite Stockmann's discovery of the contaminants is one that requires participation of virtually everyone. To paraphrase Hillary Clinton, it takes a village to poison the baths. This is the import of Stockmann's harangue at the play's climax.

Use the five components of the Ecological Model to comprehensively analyze the factors involved in the narrative;

The five components of Bronfenbrenner's 1979 Ecological Model consist of the microsystem (or the family level) the exosystem (or the environmental and institutional level) the macrosystem (or the larger societal influences such as values, politics, and social conditions), the chronosystem (which stresses the influence of the past on the present deveopments) and finally the mesosystem (which represents the interaction between two sets of systems). These are easily analyzed in Enemy of the People: Stockmann's microsystem obviously includes his wife and children, but it also includes his brother. The exosystem is represented in the play by the institutional affiliations of the town: the newspaper, the Homeowners' Association, the town government. But the macrosystem involves the play's numerous discussions of "freethought" -- a nineteenth century euphemism for a system of thought that abjured doctrinaire Christianity in favor of a sort of atheistic social meliorism -- and Stockmann's decision to blame the "majority" and to attack the public with foul and elitist language. The chronosystem in the play is best represented by Stockmann's repeated references to the way in which his original plans for the baths had been ignored. And as for the interaction of these in the mesosystem, that is best illustrated by Stockmann's relationship with his brother: this is not only a personal and familial argument conducted with the ferocity of Cain and Abel, but it is also a political and institutional argument between two committee members overseeing the baths, one of whom represents the dominant political interest of the town, the other of whom represents issues of health and welfare.

Chose one model/theory to assist the main character in thinking about a possible solution(s) to the problems posed in changing behavior/attitudes.

Assess the main character's ability as an effective public health advocate

The Health Belief Model asks us to concentrate on the beliefs and attitudes of the persons, by means of attempting explanatory and predictive analysis of those persons behaviors. The Health Belief Model was developed for the U.S. Government in the 1950s by a team of psychologists, but it remains in current use (with some refinement) for various public health issues, such as the spread of HIV. As an example of how the Health Belief Model works in current practice, we may consider that the transmission of AIDS in urban communities is caused by the practice of "barebacking," or engaging in risky activity (such as anal sex) without a condom. The Health Belief Model asks us to consider what health-related action is here necessitated -- i.e., persuading those who engage in barebacking to change their behavior and attitude -- and bases its approach on the supposition that these people will indeed perform the health-oriented act (in this case, practicing "safe" sex) if three conditions are met: they believe that a negative health result can be avoided (i.e., they do not consider AIDS to be a hopeless inevitability); they believe the negative health result (in this case AIDS) will genuinely be prevented by the act (i.e., they believe in the efficacy of condom use); and they believe that the action in question is one that they can perform on their own (i.e., they know how…[continue]

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