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The Elephant Man: A Study In Human Dignity   Leave a comment



Pg. 2 – Hideously deformed, malodorous, for the most part maltreated, constantly in pain, lame, fed the merest scraps, exhibited as a grotesque monster at circuses, fairs, and wherever else a penny might be turned, the object of constant expressions of horror and disgust, it might have been expected that “the Elephant Man” would have grown into a creature detesting all human beings, bitter, awkward, difficult in his relations with others, ungentle, unfeeling, aggressive, and unlovable.

31 – What most he dreaded were the open street and the gaze of his fellow-men.

34 – He had no childhood. He had no boyhood. He had never experienced pleasure. He knew nothing of the joy of living nor of the fun of things. His sole idea of happiness was to creep into the dark and hide. Shut up alone in a booth, awaiting the next exhibition, how mocking must have sounded the laughter and merriment of the boys and girls outside who were enjoying the “fun of the fair”!

34,35 – Those who are interested in the evolution of character might speculate as to the effect of this brutish life upon a sensitive and intelligent man. It would be reasonable to surmise that he would become a spiteful and malignant misanthrope, swollen with venom and filled with hatred of his fellow-men, or, on the other hand, that he would degenerate into a despairing melancholic on the verge of idiocy. Merrick, however, was no such being. He had passed through the fire and had come out unscathed. His troubles had ennobled him. He showed himself to be a gentle, affectionate and lovable creature, as amiable as a happy woman, free from any trace of cynicism or resentment, without a grievance and without an unkind word for anyone. I have never heard him complain. I have never heard him deplore his ruined life or resent the treatment he had received at the hands of callous keepers.

35 – He had no possessions. His sole belongings, besides his clothes and some books, were the monstrous cap and the cloak. He was a wanderer, a pariah and an outcast.

36 – He had read about blind asylums in the newspapers and was attracted by the thought of being among people who could not see.

38 – As he let go her hand he bent his head on his knees and sobbed until I thought he would never cease. The interview was over. He told me afterwards that this was the first woman who had ever smiled at him, and the first woman, in the whole of his life, who had shaken hands with him.

39 – He could weep, but he could not smile.

39 – The Queen paid Merrick many visits and sent him every year a Christmas card with a message in her own handwriting. On one occasion she sent him a signed photograph of herself. Merrick, quite overcome, regarded it as a sacred object and would hardly allow me to touch it. He cried over it, and after it was framed had it put up in his room as a kind of icon.

41 – imagine the feelings of such a youth when he saw nothing but a look of horror creep over the face of every girl whose eyes met his. I fancy when he talked of life among the blind there was a half-formed idea in his mind that he might be able to win the affection of a woman if only she were without eyes to see.

43,44 – I could not help comparing him with a man of his own age in the stalls. This satiated individual was bored to distraction, would look wearily at the stage from time to time and then yawn as if he had not slept for nights; while at the same time Merrick was thrilled by a vision that was almost beyond his comprehension. Merrick talked of this pantomime for weeks and weeks. To him, as to a child with the faculty of make-believe, everything was real; the palace was the home of kings, the princess was of royal blood, the fairies were as undoubted as the children in the street, while the dishes at the banquet were of unquestionable gold. He did not like to discuss it as a play but rather as a vision of some actual world. When this mood possessed him he would say: “I wonder what the prince did after he left?” or “Do you think that poor man is still in the dungeon?” and so on and so on.

46 – He often said to me that he wished he could lie down to sleep “like other people.”

46 – As a specimen of humanity, Merrick was ignoble and repulsive; but the spirit of Merrick, if it could be seen in the form of the living, would assume the figure of an upstanding and heroic man, smooth-browed and clean of limb, and with eyes that flashed undaunted courage.

63 – Merrick died trying to be what he had ached to be all his life: normal.

79 – A short definition of mental health is the ability to love, to work, to play, and to think soundly. By love is meant the ability to communicate to the other, by demonstrative acts, one’s profound involvement in their welfare, such that you give them all the support, succor, stimulation, and encouragement for their healthy growth and development; that they can always depend upon you standing by; that you will never commit the supreme treason of letting them down when they are in need; that you will always be there to respond to their need; that you will help them fulfill themselves by nurturing and encouraging them to realize all the potentialities that are within them for becoming good and loving human beings, who will live as if to live and love were one, loving others more than one loves oneself.

80 – The ability to work is another essential component of mental health. Work is purposeful activity, mental or physical effort designed to do or make something. In Merrick’s development it is highly probable that he worked well and enjoyed it, judging from his skill in the creation of a model cathedral from pieces of cardboard and colored papers. This is really quite beautiful, and when one considers it was all done with one hand, quite remarkable in and of itself.

81 – “It is not that the Englishman can’t feel – it is that he is afraid to feel. He has been taught at…school that feeling is bad form. He must not express great joy or sorrow….He must bottle up his emotions, or let them out only on a very special occasion.”

83 – There is an ancient Middle Eastern saying that since God could not be everywhere he created mothers.

103 – “I am happy every hour of the day” is how he put it.

105,106 – It is the “freak,” the “monster,” who in a profound sense is truly the least monstrous among us.

107 – In a very real way, most of us are disabled, more or less. We are handicapped by, among other things, our failure to recognize the kind of human beings we are able to become. The tragedy for so many of us lies in the difference between what we were potentially capable of becoming and what we have been caused to become by our socializers and our dysfunctional society. If we will understand this, and understand how we came to be this way, there is hope that we may yet be able to save ourselves.

107 – In their reactive revulsion, fear and awkwardness, they compound the injuries the disabled have already suffered. It is often easier for the disabled to deal with their problems than it is to deal with the customary reactions toward them.

The Elephant Man: A Study In Human Dignity
by Ashley Montagu

Posted March 30, 2015 by Mr. Merrick in Books

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