Novel The Elephant Man: Synopsis,Setting, Characters, Themes, Moral Values, Point of View, Tone and Mood, Language and Style, Literary Device
Dr Frederick Treves, a doctor working in a London Hospital, meets a creature in a shop one day in 1884. The creature is known as the Elephant Man due to his appearance. After the meeting, Dr Treves learns the man’s name – Joseph Merrick. He also asks to examine Merrick more carefully at the hospital. He pays some money to the shopkeeper and made arrangements so he can take Merrick to the hospital.
The next day, Dr Treves arrives at the shop and takes Merrick to the hospital in a taxi. During the trip to the hospital, Dr Treves talks to Merrick and gives him a card with his name on it. Merrick keeps the card in the pocket of his trousers. In the hospital, Dr Treves examines Merrick and makes notes about his observations. Later that day, Dr Treves takes Merrick back to the shop.
The next time Dr Treves meets Merrick is two years later. Merrick is brought by the police to the London Hospital after they see Dr Treves’ card with him. Dr Treves wants Merrick to stay in the hospital so he tells the Chairman of the Hospital about Merrick’s story. The Chairman writes a letter to the Editor of The Times to seek donations. Many readers contribute their money and it is enough for Merrick to make a home for himself in the hospital.
Merrick spends his time reading and talking about books. Dr Treves visites him every day and talks to him. Dr Treves also wants Merrick to meet more people. Dr Treves’ friend, a beautiful young woman, comes for a visit. After the first meeting, the young woman visits Merrick a few more times and once comes with a friend. Merrick begins to have friends. More people read about him so he receives many visitors including several important people. One day, Her Majesty Queen Alexandra, the Queen of England, visits Merrick. The Queen visits Merrick several more times and even sends him a Christmas card. Merrick, then, writes a letter – his first in his life – to the Queen.
With Dr Treves’ help, Merrick goes to a theatre to watch a children’s Christmas play and later, stays in a small house in the country. He spends six weeks in the country alone. He enjoys his time there thoroughly and writes to Dr Treves every week. Merrick returns to London when summer ends. In April 1890 – six months after returning from the country – Merrick dies in his bed. The following day, the Chairman of the Hospital writes, once again, to the Editor of The Times about Merrick’s passing.
Dr Frederick Treves, a doctor at London Hospital
Joseph Merrick, a severely deformed man/the Elephant Man
Mr Simon Silcock, the shopkeeper
Mr Carr Gomm, Chairman of the London Hospital
Queen Alexandra, the Queen of England
Mrs Kendal, lady at the theatre
Time: The story about the Elephant Man begins in April 1884 when Dr Treves first meets Merrick and ends with the later’s death in April 1890.
Social: The period in English history at that time was the Victorian age. During Victorian times, society was divided into many layers – rich and poor, or upper, middle and lower classes.
The shop – where Dr Treves first meets Merrick London Hospital – Dr Treves’ workplace. He examines Merrick and writes down his observations the day after their first meeting. Two rooms at the back of the hospital become Merrick’s home for the last three and a half years of his life.
The theatre – where Merrick watches a children’s Christmas play
The countryside – Merrick spends six weeks in a small country house
Belgium – The shopkeeper, Mr Silcock, takes Merrick to Belgium and, after a year, leaves him there.
1. Power of kindness
Members of the public who read about Merrick condition show sympathy and interest to help him have a home in the hospital. As a result of their overwhelming response, a lot of money is collected so Merrick can get a permanent home.
2. An indomitable spirit
Even though he is living in emotional and physical pain, Merrick shows strength, bravery and determination. He lives during a time when appearance and connections in society are very important. He struggles but does not give up on life.
3. Social class and power
Due to the various classes in the Victorian society, some have more power and authority, live in better conditions and have easier access to modern facilities than others. The story records the different treatment Merrick receives from people from different social classes in Victorian times.
We should not judge others based only on their appearance.
We should show compassion to the less fortunate as our small contribution can help make their lives more comfortable.
We should learn to put ourselves in other people’s shoes so we do not criticise or belittle them.
We should be inspired by someone with an indomitable spirit, like Merrick.
Point of View
This story is based on the life of Joseph Carey Merrick who lived from 5 August 1862 to 11 April 1890. He is known as the Elephant Man due to his deformity. The story is written from a first-person point of view of Dr Frederick Treves. Dr Treves chronicles/records Merrick’s story beginning with his first encounter with Merrick and continues when he meets Merrick again a couple of years later. During the three and a half years Merrick lives in the hospital, Dr Treves records the changes in Merrick’s life and the new things he experiences.
Tone and Mood
The first-hand account from Dr Treves about the tragic life of Merrick is informal. It chronicles Merrick’s life and experiences due to his deformity. The mood the true-life account creates is sympathy and sadness as we learn about Merrick’s hard life but the mood changes to one of hope and excitement as Merrick thrives in his new home in the hospital. However, his sudden death, especially when he is just beginning to enjoy his life, is devastating.
Language and Style
The language used in the account of the later years of Merrick’s life – a real person who had extreme facial and body deformity – is easy to understand. The writer, Dr Treves, states facts and presents his observation of Merrick when he first crosses paths with him. His description is straightforward and informative as he gives readers an idea of Merrick’s appearance and tragic circumstances.
Dr Treves narrates the last three and a half years of Merrick’s life using simple language. He includes letters written by the Chairman of the Hospital and by Merrick to the Queen and himself, as well as a Christmas card from the Queen to describe the changes in Merrick’s life and how he is affected by these new and positive changes.