Summer Reading Selection
Goucher College is delighted to host Kwame Kwei-Armah*, the artistic director of Baltimore's Center Stage and director of An Enemy of the People, for this year's first-year student group reading discussion and evening presentation. Students will receive copies of the play An Enemy of the People at Summer Orientation or via mail within the next few weeks. During Fall Orientation, students will engage in small groups to discuss a number of issues and ideas brought up in the play. Following the group discussion, students will attend a presentation and discussion led by Kwei-Armah.
Students additionally are invited to attend an evening dress rehearsal of the play on Tuesday, September 18. Transportation will be provided, and sign-up information will be given to you at Fall Orientation and posted around campus when the semester starts.
In the 1950 version of An Enemy of the People, prominent American playwright Arthur Miller adapted and Americanized the original five-act stage drama written by Henrik Ibsen in 1882.
The play's protagonist, Dr. Stockmann, attempts to expose a water pollution scandal in his hometown, which is about to establish itself as a spa resort. When his brother, the mayor, conspires with local politicians and the newspaper to suppress the story, Stockmann appeals to the public at a meeting-only to be shouted down and reviled as "an enemy of the people."
The premise of the work is simple: Does the majority rule even when it is proven that they are wrong? The play is a penetrating exploration of what happens when the truth comes up against the will of the majority and an indictment of a society that will throttle its own interests to adamantly support the interests of the rich and powerful few.
In preparation for the discussions and presentation, students are asked to consider these other underlying themes of the play:
- Truth must not be hidden, diluted, or altered even when it goes counter to the wishes of the majority.
- Shiny apples are sometimes rotten at the core. The town's baths appear safe and salubrious, but poison befouls their waters. Similarly, the town's leading citizens are outwardly attractive but inwardly repulsive.
- It doesn't matter what everyone thinks or wants; what matters is what is right-even when only one person is willing to defend what is right. In Act I, Mayor Stockmann frowns on assertion of the individual will in society, saying, "The individual ought undoubtedly to acquiesce in subordinating himself to the community-or, to speak more accurately, to the authorities who have the care of the community's welfare." In so doing, he sets up the clash later in the play with his brother, who indeed asserts his will. Seemingly upright citizens will compromise their morals when their wallets and livelihood are threatened. In other words, the love of money is the root of all evil.
- What was the social and political climate when Ibsen published An Enemy of the People in 1882? How did Arthur Miller's adaptation reflect 1950's America? Fast-forward to 2012. How will Kwame Kwei-Armah's production speak to Americans today?
- Miller's version of An Enemy of the People is generally regarded as an adaptation. Miller, however, considered his work to be a new translation into spoken English. What is your opinion?
- Arthur Miller described the enduring themes and questions raised in An Enemy of the People in his preface. After reading the play, students are asked to think about these questions Miller considered for his adaption:
- Should the democratic guarantees protecting political minorities be set aside in times of crisis?
- Ought one feel guilty for having a vision of the truth that the majority of people condemn as a lie?
- Can society countenance the individual who insists he is right while the vast majority is wrong?
*Kwame Kwei-Armah is an award-winning British playwright, director, actor, and broadcaster. His plays include Seize the Day, A Bitter Herb, Blues Brother Soul Sister, Big Nose, and his triptych of plays chronicling the struggles of the British African-Caribbean community in London-Elmina's Kitchen, Fix up, and Statement of Regret-which each premiered at the National Theatre between 2003 and 2007. With Elmina's Kitchen he became the first black Briton to have a play produced in London's West End; Elmina's Kitchen and Let There be Love each had their American débuts at Center Stage. He wrote the 2010 teleplay Walter's War about the first black commissioned officer to lead British troops during WW I; has made numerous contributions to The Guardian and other leading papers in London; and has served as presenter in documentaries and culture programs. As an actor, Kwei-Armah appeared in the British TV medical drama Casualty, followed by a recurring role on its sister series, Holby City, as well as appearances on numerous other hit shows in Britain.