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Dr. Stockmann is the protagonist of the play. He is an idealist who is imprudent in his behavior. When he discovers that the water in the bath is contaminated, he rushes to the press and leaks out the information. This leads to a confrontation between Dr. Stockmann and the Burgomaster, who is also the chairman of the Baths Committee. The doctor's saving grace is the courage with which he adheres to his convictions. Standing alone, he bravely faces the citizens when he finds himself "gagged" by Hovstad and the Burgomaster.
The general antagonist to Dr. Stockmann is corruption and deceit, which are clearly symbolized in Peter Stockmann, the Burgomaster. He is a representative of the Old World order. Unable to understand the ethical aspects of any issue, he resents his brother's attitude in making public the unsanitary condition of the baths. He also believes that all individuals should subordinate themselves to the authorities. Dr. Stockmann disapproves of these attitudes of his brother, and the Burgomaster is aware of his feelings. As a result, he conspires with Hovstad and Aslaksen to have Dr. Stockmann declared an enemy of the people.
The differences between Dr. Stockmann and the Burgomaster deepen over the issue of the baths. The Burgomaster wants to hush up the matter to save his own face; but Dr. Stockmann is adamant about making the people away of the true conditions of the baths. The Burgomaster wins over Hovstad and Aslaksen to his side and uses them as pawns to checkmate his brother at the citizens' meeting. The moment of climax comes when Dr. Stockmann is declared an enemy of the people and hounded by the citizens.
The story ends in tragedy. Once Dr. Stockmann is declared an enemy of the people, he has a series of misfortunes. He and his daughter lose their jobs, and his landlord wants to evict the family. In spite of his troubles, he refuses to succumb to the pressure tactics of the Burgomaster and determines to carry on his fight until the end, with the support of his wife and children. He even wants to start a school at the very place where he was ignominiously declared an enemy of the people. Experience has made him discover a new truth: the strongest person in the world is he who stands most alone. Although the play has a tragic ending, there is an aura of hope at the close. Although Dr. Stockman has lost the battle, it seems he has not lost the war.