Deeper into Jeopardy! XXX: Henrik Ibsen – $1600

Jeopardy! category: HENRIK IBSEN (31-10-2014)

$1600 clue: A stand-in for Ibsen himself, truth-telling medical inspector Thomas Stockmann becomes this “of the people”

Correct response

The gist: Remember all that scandal Ibsen caused with Ghosts that we talked about last Friday?

Well, Ibsen got his literary revenge with his next play, 1882’s An Enemy of the People. The play takes place in a bustling Norwegian town, where the new city baths are poised to become a major attraction. Dr. Stockmann, who has been eking out a meager living in the countryside for some time, gets a job as a medical inspector at the baths from his brother, the city’s mayor. He commissions a report that reveals harmful bacteria in the bathwater, and tells his brother and several other civic figures that he intends to publish it. The mayor becomes outraged at the perceived injustice being done to him and the city by Dr. Stockmann, as the necessary repairs would be very expensive and time-consuming, and the doctor in turn becomes outraged that the mayor does not immediately support his plan to fix the baths. The editor of the town paper wants to publish the story, but fears backlash from both the city council and the townsfolk, and after becoming frustrated with the newsmen’s dithering Dr. Stockmann decides to publicize his findings on his own, to the distress of his nonetheless supportive wife. At the next town hall meeting, Dr. Stockmann presents his findings over the objections of the debate mediator, and also accuses the city council of corruption, but the townsfolk take this as an insult to them (after all, they elected the council) and label the doctor an “enemy of the people.” In the end, Dr. Stockmann’s house has been smashed, and he is persona non grata in the town. His father-in-law, who owns the tannery that’s polluting the bath, buys the bath and wants the doctor to drop his crusade. But the doctor, ever the idealist, refuses. The play ends with the doctor’s children being sent home from school as outcasts, and the doctor making the enigmatic, perhaps oxymoronic statement that he is stronger than the people, who he refers to as “wolves,” because “the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.”

It might seem from that retelling that Dr. Stockmann is the “good guy” in the play, but it’s much less simplistic than that. It’s not at all clear whether the doctor’s quest is truly noble or more quixotic – is he really fighting for the best interests of the town or has he simply gotten the idea in his head that the baths represent a great danger and is refusing to let it go? Is the mayor blind to criticism, or does he in fact have a more sober view of the situation? Ibsen wrote himself that he identified strongly with Dr. Stockmann, but whether this was chest-thumping idealism or self-critical reflection is left open to the audience.

Advertisement for a 1997 showing of An Enemy of the People, starring Sir Ian McKellen Dr. Stockmann, for the Royal National Theatre Company

The clue: “Hero” of the people? “Friend” of the people? “Leader” of the people? I can think of several words that would seem to make sense before “of the people” without knowing anything about the play. And this clue doesn’t give any outside hints, so I would say guessing is a bad idea. You’ll need to at least have heard of the play to get this one, even if you wouldn’t have needed to know that it was by Ibsen.

In Jeopardy!:  appears in seven clues in the J!Archive. Besides this one, though, the correct response is always Ibsen himself, with the play’s title given in the clue. So, the only thing you need to know about it for Jeopardy! is who it’s by. Simple enough!

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