Dennis Wright


Joseph Corey Merrick, known as the Elephant Man, lived with an  extremely rare disease during the mid- to late-nineteenth century. It  was a time before the medical diagnostics that we are so accustomed to  now, such as blood tests, DNA analysis, X-rays, and MRIs. He suffered  from the ravages of the progressive disease as well as the revulsion  expressed by the people who encountered him.

Discussion Question:

Prepare for the discussion by first watching the documentary about Joseph Carey Merrick, watching David Lynch’s film The Elephant Man, and reading Merrick’s poem. It is important that you first see the documentary before the film. This activity aligns with module outcomes 1 and 4.

  • Lynch’s film is the dramatization of Merrick’s life with a style  (black and white, for example) that almost puts the viewer in his shoes.  The documentary is about Merrick’s life, a history, as well as  medicine’s quest for answers. Which of the two had the greater impact on  you and why.
  • The film and the documentary examine the different motivations of  people who took an interest in Merrick. There was Dr. Treves who at one  point questioned his own motives. There were the gawkers who came to see  him in the “freak show.” There were the members of high society  including royalty. To the best of your ability, examine what you think  the motivations were for these people.
  • Merrick used the poem by Isacc Watts (1674-1748) in the pamphlet  that was used for his shows, and he often recited it. Now that you have  gotten to know Merrick, how do you interpret this poem in relation to  his life and experience?

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