Check Your Understanding

Reread the second paragraph. How might this help the audience visualize John Merrick? Highlight textual evidence and write an annotation to explain your answer. (CCSS: RL.9-10.1, RL.9-10.10)

Highlights include but are not limited to: “his physical agony,” “physical hideousness, incapacitating deformities and unremitting pain,” “expressions of horror and disgust by all who behold him,” “crowds who pay to gape and yawp at this freak of nature.” Sample Annotation: The author begins the excerpt with a speech by Ross that describes John Merrick’s physical appearance. The audience hears this description and opinion of Merrick before they see him. As a result, the audience is likely to visualize a person who has an extreme physical appearance that causes him a great deal of pain. For example, they might picture someone with twisted limbs or misshapen features.

As you reread the excerpt from The Elephant Man, remember that the author communicates the tone through dialogue and stage directions. In the second paragraph, highlight a sentence or phrase that describes how people react when they see Merrick. Then write an annotation to explain how this text contributes to the tone of the play. (CCSS: RL.9-10.1, RL.9-10.4)

Acceptable highlights include: “the cruelly lacerating expressions of horror and disgust by all who behold him” and “crowds who pay to gape and yawp at this freak of nature.” In their annotations, students should explain that these details and imagery demonstrate that Ross was a huckster who took advantage of Merrick, which contributes to the serious tone of the play.

Think about how the character of “VOICE” (paragraphs 19 and 21) adds a mysterious tone to the play. Highlight the lines that help establish this tone. Then write an annotation giving stage directions that could enhance the mysterious tone of this character. How might this character look, sound, and act? (CCSS: RL.9-10.1, RL.9-10.4, RL.9-10.7)

Highlights include: “I do not think it ought to be permitted,” “It may be a danger in ways we do not know,” and “I know what to do. I know.” Acceptable annotations include: The character of Voice should remain largely unseen. His appearance should remain a mystery. His voice should be deep and strong but unemotional, giving away nothing about his possible motives. His demeanor should be calm yet authoritative. The audience should be left wondering if he is a fellow doctor, a detective, or even another person seeking to take advantage of Merrick. All of this would enhance the mysterious tone of this scene.

Highlight words or phrases from the first five sentences of paragraph 18 that are examples of the academic and scientific tone of this part of the play. Then make annotations to explain how these words or phrases help create that tone. (CCSS: RL.9-10.1, RL.9-10.4, L.9-10.5.A)

Acceptable highlights include, but are not limited to: “circumference,” “brow,” “bony mass,” “spongy fungous-looking skin,” “comparable,” “skull,” “osseous growth,” “stage,” and “occluded.” Possible annotation: The author chose words such as “comparable” and “occluded” to help create an academic and scientific tone. If the author did not want to create this tone, he could have chosen words such as “similar” and “obstructed” instead. The word “stage” shows that Treves assumes the osseous growth has changed and may continue to change form. This clue about the knowledge Treves possesses enhances the academic and scientific tone.

In their speeches, both Ross and Treves use words and phrases with specific meanings and connotations to describe John Merrick. Highlight some of these words and phrases and explain their meanings and connotations. Then explain how these different descriptions help the audience develop compassion for Merrick. Write your response as an annotation. (CCSS: RL.9-10.1, RL.9-10.3, RL.9-10.4)

Possible annotation: Ross uses words and phrases such as “incapacitating deformities” and “unremitting pain,” designed to elicit shock and curiosity from potential customers (and the audience or readers of the play). Ross also uses the words “creature” and “freak” to describe Merrick. The negative connotations of these words serve to dehumanize Merrick, putting him at the level of a monster or animal. Ross’s callousness and apparent lack of compassion for Merrick elicits pity and compassion from the audience or readers. Treves, meanwhile, employs more subjective and scientific words and phrases to describe Merrick. Yet he also uses crude words with negative connotations, such as describing Merrick’s nose as “merely a lump of flesh” and his mouth as “a slobbering aperture.” With these words coming from the formal and scientific Treves, the audience is forced to take them more seriously than they took Ross’s description. Here, the audience must accept the fact that even in the eyes of science, Merrick really is as hideous as Ross made him out to be. This realization elicits another level of compassion for Merrick, as the audience begins to understand that Merrick may truly be alone in this world.