Sample exam question and model response p. 19, from “And the Baths …” to “the water is absolutely dangerous to use, either internally or externally. ” Question: How does Ibsen portray the Baths is this extract, and for what purposes? This extract occurs in Act I, during a conversation between Doctor, Petra and Mrs Stockmann with Hovstad, Horster and Billing.
The subject of the conversation is the town Baths, and their poisoning by effluent from Morten Kiil’s tannery at Molledal. This discussion foreshadows the action in the remainder of the play, where Dr Stockmann discovers that the corruption of the waters feeding the Baths is also in the minds of the townspeople who oppose the closure of “the town’s life-blood”.
The fact Stockmann and Billing refer to the Baths as the “main artery of the town’s life-blood”, “the nerve centre of the town” and “the town’s pulsating heart” metaphorically links the Baths to vital organs in the human body, an appropriate image for a doctor whose job it is to assist the health of individuals in any community. Of course, this metaphor on one level simply means the town is very dependent on the Baths for its material prosperity.
On another level, however, it connects with imagery throughout the play of moral health and corruption, whereby the Baths become a symbol of what taints the community – that is, their leadership’s dishonesty in dealing straightforwardly with Dr Stockmann’s scientific evidence that the Baths are in fact contaminated, and the people’s materialistic fears for the loss of their livelihoods. Ibsen, by linking the Baths to the body, links them to health and illness, so they reflect the moral as well as physical wellbeing of the town.