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Dr. Stockmann is the Medical Officer of the Baths. He is a jovial and independent person who likes to live in style and be surrounded by cheerful, intelligent people. After sampling and testing the water from the baths, he discovers that they are contaminated and dangerous for the health of the people. Dr. Stockman reports his discovery to Hovstad, the editor of the local newspaper, the People's Messenger. At first, the citizens praise the doctor for his discovery; it is even suggested that they hold a torchlight procession in his honor.
Morten Kiil, Stockmann's father-in-law, visits the doctor to confirm the reports about the baths. He is delighted when Stockman confirms the contamination of the water, for he wants to expose the misdeeds of the Burgomaster and his followers, who have dislodged Kiil from the Town Council. Aslaksen, the leader of the Homeowners' Association, also calls on the doctor to extend his support, but cautiously urges Stockmann to proceed with moderation.
Peter Stockmann is the Burgomaster (mayor) and the Chairman of the Baths Committee. He is also Dr. Stockmann's brother and is very angry about his discovery of the contamination. He wants to hush up the matter, claiming the town cannot afford the huge cost of re-laying the pipes leading to the baths. He also feels that the citizens will suffer financially if the baths are closed for nearly two years for repairs. Dr. Stockmann cannot believe his brother wants to cover up the contamination and refuses to be a party to such dishonesty, which he feels is a crime against society. The Burgomaster threatens his brother with dismissal from his position if the doctor refuses to withdraw his claim. Dr. Stockmann vows to continue his fight and assumes that the press and the compact majority will support him in his struggle.
The editor decides to publish the Burgomaster's statement instead of Dr. Stockmann's article, a change that shocks the doctor. When he criticizes his brother for his stance, Dr. Stockmann is removed from his office by the Burgomaster. Dr. Stockmann then determines to read his article to a mass meeting of the citizens, but his brother warns him that no place in town will let him hold a meeting for such a purpose. As a result, Dr. Stockmann decides to read his paper at every street corner, an action that is supported by his wife.