Never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth.

Never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth.Actor Jorgen Langhelle in the 2005 film version

An Enemy of the People (En Folkefiende) is a play written by Henrik Ibsen in 1882. The main character, Dr. Stockman, has taken a position against the people in his small town in Norway. His town spent a great deal of money to create public baths to revitalize tourism, but the doctor discovers that another business in town is poisoning the waters and for health reasons the baths must be shut down. The authorities dismiss his concerns, and most of the town turns against him, branding him "an enemy of the people." In this excerpt from the last scene, Dr. Stockman reads his landlord’s eviction notice in front of his wife:

Dr. Stockmann (looking at the letter). Does not dare do otherwise, he says. Doesn’t like doing it, but dare not do otherwise – on account of his fellow-citizens – out of regard for public opinion. Is in a dependent position – dares not offend certain influential men.

Mrs. Stockmann. There, you see, Thomas!

Dr. Stockmann. Yes, yes, I see well enough; the whole lot of them in the town are cowards; not a man among them dares do anything for fear of the others. (Throws the letter on to the table.) But it doesn’t matter to us, Katherine. We’re going to sail away to the New World, and…

Mrs. Stockmann. But, Thomas, are you sure we should take this step?

Dr. Stockmann. Are you suggesting that I should stay here, where they have pilloried me as an enemy of the people – branded me – broken my windows! And just look here, Katherine – they’ve torn a great hole in my black trousers too!

Mrs. Stockmann. Oh, dear! – and they’re the best pair you’ve got!

Dr. Stockmann. You should never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth. It’s not that I care so much about the trousers, you know; you can always sew them up again. But that the common herd should dare to make this attack on me, as if they were my equals – that is what I cannot, for the life of me, swallow!

Mrs. Stockmann. There’s no doubt they’ve behaved very badly toward you, Thomas; but is that sufficient reason for our leaving our native country for ever?

Dr. Stockmann. If we went to another town, do you think we should not find the common people just as abusive as they are here? Depend upon it, there’s not much to choose between them. Oh, well, let the dogs snap – that’s not the worst part of it. The worst is that, from one end of this country to the other, every man is the slave of his Party. Although, as far as that goes, I guess it’s not much better in the free West either; the compact majority, and liberal public opinion, and all that infernal old bag of tricks are probably rampant there too. But there things are done on a larger scale, you see. They may kill you, but they won’t put you to death by slow torture. They don’t squeeze a free man’s soul in a vice, as they do here. And, if need be, one can live in solitude. (Walks up and down.) If only I knew where there was a virgin forest or a small South Sea island for sale, cheap…

Mrs. Stockmann. But think of the boys, Thomas!

Dr. Stockmann (standing still). What a strange woman you are, Katherine! Would you prefer to have the boys grow up in a society like this? You saw for yourself last night that half the population are out of their minds; and if the other half have not lost their senses, it is because they are mere savages, with no sense to lose.

Mrs. Stockmann. But, Thomas dear, the brash things you said had something to do with it, you know.

Dr. Stockmann. Well, isn’t what I said perfectly true? Don’t they turn every idea topsy-turvy? Don’t they make a regular hodgepodge of right and wrong? Don’t they say that the things that I know are true, are lies? The craziest part of it all is the fact that these "liberals," men of full age, are going about in crowds imagining that they’re the broad-minded party!

An Enemy of the People at Project Gutenberg>> 


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