The Issues of Water Pollution in Flint, Michigan in An Enemy of the People, a Play by Henrik Ibsen

Refusal to Change and Secretive Governments: A Tale of Two Towns A play written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen over 100 years ago embodies several of the same problems which are presently being dealt with in Michigan. The town in Ibsen’s play and the situation in Flint both contain elements such as previous knowledge of a looming problem with no intention of fixing it and government corruption, making this a true “in life as in literature” situation.

Currently, Flint, Michigan is a place full of political turmoil and uncovered secrets.

While this town is known to be notoriously dangerous, lately it has been in the media for reason other than its high crime rates; Flint has been betrayed by their government officials, who have been feeding them dirty water for over a year. According to reporters Ganim and Linh from CNN News, in 2013 Flint decided that it would be more cost effective to stop buying water from Detroit, and chose to stream in water from Lake Huron.

However, after being told that the pipes wouldn’t be finished until 2016, they made a temporary switch to the cheaper and closer Flint River (“How Flint, Michigan’s Tap Water Became Toxic.” Published Jan. 13, 2016).

Unfortunately, they didn’t take the proper precautions for this transition. Castillo and Botelho, also from CNN News, claim that because of this the once booming area is now quite sickly for children are taking the brunt end of the stick, which hits them with lead poisoning and the terrible side effects that come with it.

Complaining citizens have been filing reports from the start, reports which have been put aside or covered up. Despite the profuse apologies from the mayor of Flint and the governor of Michigan, the town’s well-being has not improved (“Flint Water Crisis: Michigan Governor Apologizes.” Published Jan. 7, 2016). This situation is a dire

one, especially when remembering that there are other factors that are playing into it. This current issue and several of its major aspects can be compared to a fictional water crisis, which was written by Ibsen in his play An Enemy of the People many years ago.

In both An Enemy of the People along with Flint, knowing about a problem and leaving it to sort itself out is a trait which both towns share. In Michigan, the leaders knew that the set of pipes for Huron wouldn’t be done for years, but still decided to utilize these pipes to take water from Lake Flint. In the play, Dr. Stockmann stated that he too knew problems were imminent from the beginning, for the town hadn’t built the pipes at the level they should have. Stockmann claimed that he had “wrote opposing the plans before the work was begun,” (Act I, Page 16).

However, the doctor did not force the town to listen to his words as he had with the newfound water issue, which resulted in the pipes being laid regardless. 

Corrupt governments playing a huge part in the ongoing conflict is another aspect which can be found in both instances. As was previously mentioned, Flint has been covering up this issue to a reasonably high degree for the past year, similarly to how Peter Stockmann, the mayor in Enemy of the People, covered up the truth about the contaminated water in his town’s Baths.

We are given a glimpse of this in a confrontation between Dr. Stockmann and the mayor in Act II, where the first informs the latter of a problem with the Baths. After hearing about the issue, the mayor focuses on the cost of the happening rather than the happening itself and takes steps to ensure that the town sees the doctor as a liar.

Examining these two events makes one more appreciative of clean drinking water; according to the 2014 Report on New York’s Water Quality, the state has one of the cleanest water systems in the world, which provides vast amounts water to hundreds of millions of people everyday. Had Flint and the Norwegian town in Ibsen’s play taken the same precautions, and given their water the same careful treatment as New York State, their respective predicaments could have been avoided.

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