Throughout the beginning of Frederick Treves’s The Elephant Man, the character of John Merrick was simply a man that never got the chance to live a normal life. From the day he was born, his unfortunate physical deformities led him through a never ending cycle of ridicule, repudiation, and distress. This “monster” was considered to be a “burden that must be rid of” (185) for the greater portion of his being, compelling him to prefer a life of isolation rather than choosing to experience the everyday joys that most of us take for granted. That being said, one particular scene that was dramatically effective in opening Merrick up to a whole brighter side of life was when his wish to go to the theatre was granted.
When the time came for Merrick to attend a popular pantomime at the Drury Lane Theater, the buildup to the event made it clear that this was going to be a life changing experience for him. All of the various and certainly laborious obstacles of getting Merrick to an appropriate seat were handled by all women (Mrs. Kendall the actress and the three hospital sisters); the gender that had once feared him invariably and it couldn’t stand to be in his presence. In my opinion, I believed this could be Treves foreshadowing the idea that there was change for the better in Merrick’s life now and it was here to stay.
While the setting of the stage had all to do with the predicament of getting “the elephant man” to the theatre, as soon as the pantomime begun he wasn’t referred to anymore by his monstrous title but instead by his proper name. Possibly symbolizing Merrick’s introduction to the outside world, in his mind as a normal human being. The narrator’s description of the man’s first trip to the theater was described as, “Once has often witnessed the unconstrained delight of a child at its first pantomime, but Merrick’s rapture was much more intense as well as much more solemn. Here was a being with the brain of a man, the fancies of a youth and the imagination of a child” (197). Up to that point in Merrick’s life, his books were his sole source of knowledge about the outside world as an average individual. They allowed him to dream of a life with happiness and adventure, but offered no visual quite like the pantomime. In my mind, Merrick was starting life from the beginning, and just like anyone else in his or her youth, we don’t know any better then to think that the make-believe is real.
The narrator’s analysis of Merrick’s reactions to the pantomime was also dramatically effective in terms of offering insight into how his life as the “elephant man” affected his view on others. One part of this that I found very ironic is when the narrator states, “He did not like the ogres and the giants, while the funny men impressed him as irreverent” (197). I found this quite interesting because while most would assume that he could maybe connect to the fictional monsters, he instead feared them just like a majority of children would. On the other hand, considering the funny men as “irreverent” is understandable because in his entire life, the only men that he saw laughing would be the ones making a mockery of him as the elephant man.
Once known as the elephant man, John Merrick was a person characterized as the “embedment of loneliness” (182), but thanks to a scholar was fortunately opened up to a normal life filled with imagination and adventure. I believe that there is no other scene in the story that better depicts the start of Merrick’s transformation than this one here.