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Margaret Jimenez June, 2007

“An Enemy of the People”

By Henrik Ibsen (adapted by Arthur Miller)

Which is most important: power or truth? Power is defined as “the ability to do or

act” or another way to put it is - power is “authority”. Truth, on the other hand and

amongst its myriad definitions is defined as “integrity or honesty”. Power to me alludes to

superiority, intense influence and the imposing of one’s own will so as to dominate over

others. Power may seem the more desired entity but it can also blur the possessor’s sense

of right or wrong; perhaps even alter their soundness of character and reap destruction as a

consequence. Therefore I believe that truth is always most important because it represents

sound judgment as well as having the courage to stand up for one’s ideals and convictions

despite adversity, derision and or threats of negative consequence.

Truth represents a person’s lofty ideals. It carries with it a sense of high esteem and

firm optimism and is manifested and made more significant through the strength of an

individual’s convictions about what they believe and live as truth. A person who is integral

is clear and confident in his or her position. They are more often than not resolute

individuals who cannot be easily dissuaded from their principles. It is difficult or almost

impossible to persuade them to pursue a course of wrongful intention. Power on the other

hand can be a huge corrupting force in a person’s life, destroying an individual’s high

standards and replacing them with avarice, deceit and complete and utter callousness.

In the play, “An Enemy of the People”, the main protagonist Dr. Stockman

discovers that the springs in his town are badly polluted posing a serious danger to the
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entire community and the tourists who visit them. He feels strongly that he must alert the

townspeople to this grave hazard and so he quickly alerts the Mayor and members of the

town’s liberal newspaper. From the onset Dr. Stockman’s intentions are pure. He is only

looking out for the good of the townspeople. He feels certain they will appreciate and heed

his warnings, however because these springs are considered crucial to the town’s economy,

almost immediately he experiences fierce opposition. Dr. Stockman to his great surprise

and disappointment finds himself locked in a struggle of authoritarian power versus a vital

truth. Dr. Stockman is firm in his stance and he continues his campaign for truth despite

the resistance at hand. His sense of idealism may seem heroic but the actions of the town’s

politicians and community belie that. The majority turn against him vociferously, accusing

him of extreme sensationalism and a conspiracy to destroy the town’s finances. He is

declared “an enemy of the people”. These individuals represent the power that turns a blind

eye to the most important and in this case, potentially life saving truth.

This story of power versus truth and which is most important is one that has been

repeated throughout the ages. In the days before civil rights this country lived in a society

where a person’s race, creed or color disqualified him from inalienable human rights. The

truth is that we are all the same inside. Inside all of us our blood runs red. There is no

distinction once the exterior is taken away yet to our chagrin and the disgrace of an entire

nation, minorities were treated as less than equals by those who thought they had the power

to decide such ridiculous notions. Brave men like Martin Luther King Jr. dared to stand up

and speak the truth although they did so at an extraordinarily high price. But that most

important truth - that all men are created equal changed a nation for the better and that

legacy lives on.

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Another area where this idea of power versus truth is prominent is in the political

arena. The wars waged there sometimes damage or destroy many an individual’s hard

earned and esteemed reputations and or livelihoods through the ruthlessness of a rival

campaign’s unbridled political maneuverings. In my humble opinion, few politicos battle

this power with the truth of their convictions. Instead many succumb to pressures and

become as those who sought to vanquish them in the first place. I respect any politician

whose sense of truth is what inspires him or her to remain resolute in the face of adversity.

These individuals will not allow a dangerous, irrational or rampant power to vanquish their

truth.

George Orwell said, “In a time of unveiled deceit, telling the truth becomes a

revolutionary act.” Dr. Stockwell is one person who pays a high price for his convictions.

He jeopardizes his reputation and his livelihood yet he stands firm. It may seem that he

acts foolishly in doing so but I admire his tenacity and willingness to stand up for his

convictions. In men like Dr. Stockwell and Martin Luther King Jr. I see admirable

qualities that define good and integral people – honor, integrity, moral responsibility and

readiness to defend the truth no matter the cost. I hold no illusions for I know that this

question of which is most important – power or truth will always be debated. But I hope

that as long as there are people that long for power, that there will also always be a

contingent of truth seekers who will battle on behalf of what is right. It is my firm hope

and conviction that the truth shall always prevail.

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