LitScope: The Elephant Man by Tim Vicary
For Malaysian Form 3 Students
Elements of the Short Story
- A shop-lot in London, the London Hospital, and the countryside.
- Early 1800s
The Author: Tim Vicary
- He worked for many years as a lecturer at the Norwegian Study Centre at the university of York.
- He co-wrote several textbooks for Norwegian schools, and many graded readers for foreign learners of English, published by Oxford University Press.
- He now lives in the English countryside in the North of England.
Chapter by chapter synopsis below.
The Elephant Man
Chapter 1 Synopsis – The Creature in The Shop
One day in 1884, a doctor, whose name is Dr Frederick Treves, saw a picture in the window of a shop near the hospital he works in, the London Hospital. The picture was ugly and did not look like a man but an elephant instead. “Come in and see the Elephant Man. Two pence,” it said below the picture. Dr Treves entered the shop to see the man in the picture. The store was filthy and rotten fruits were seen lying around. The shopkeeper, Mr Simon Silcock, first refused to let the doctor visit the ugly man because he was closing shop and asked the doctor to come back tomorrow. However, the doctor was entertained when he said that he will offer more than two pence to see the man in the picture.
Silcock brought the doctor into a little room at the back of the shop. It was cold and dark, and a horrible smell was present. In the room, a disfigured man with a cloth over its head, sat on a chair very quietly. The doctor described him as a creature because of his appearance, an elephant’s face because of his dead skin. The shopkeeper then orders the man to walk. The doctor observed him, his condition and he could not walk well due to his big legs and bad back. His left hand however attracted the doctor’s interest. The left arm and hand did not look like the rest of his body, it was beautiful, it looks like a young woman’s hand. Joseph Merrick was the man’s name.
The doctor and the shopkeeper then left the dark room. Silcock spoke about Merrick. He takes Merrick, the Elephant Man, because of his appearance, around the country and says that many hundred-people come to see him. He explained that the business is difficult and sometimes, he gets a lot of money. His business is difficult because of the police, he explained. So the shopkeeper and the Elephant Man move every week.
The doctor introduced himself to the shopkeeper and he wanted to bring Merrick to the hospital. Silcock was hesitant and said it was going to be difficult because people are afraid of him due to his appearance. Sometimes, little boys run after Merrick and hit him. The police sometimes put Silcock and Merrick in prison for scaring the public. The doctor offered the shopkeeper even more money, possibly hoping the shopkeeper to cooperate and to bring the man to the hospital. Silcock then suggested the doctor to bring him in a cab.
Chapter 2 Synopsis – The Card
The doctor visited the shop in a cab early next morning. Merrick wore a big black hat, a long coat and his face was covered with a cloth. Merrick had difficulty climbing the cab’s steps, so the doctor helped him. After a few minutes, the postman arrived and asked whether the gentleman was ill. The doctor corrected him that it was a woman, possibly to save Merrick’s identity. The postman and Dr Treves helped Merrick up the steps. There was a boy near the cab, they made fun of Merrick, “Come and see this, boys! A fat lady in a black coat! And look at that enormous hat!” the boy said. The boys laughed, the doctor quickly closed the door behind Merrick as soon as he entered the cab. Dr Treves thanked the postman and boarded the cab. Merrick and the doctor was on their way to the hospital.
Merrick asked who the doctor was. This was the first time the doctor officially introduced himself to Merrick. He even gave him his business card.
Upon arriving at the hospital, the doctor examined Merrick and wrote important things about him in a little book. The doctor left Merrick back at the shop in the evening that same day. The next day, the picture which first aroused the doctor’s interest, was no more there.
Chapter 3 Synopsis (3.0) – A Letter to The Times
Merrick was last seen by Dr Treves two years ago. One day, the police brought Merrick to the London Hospital, the doctor’s business card led them there. He was tired, hungry and dirty, so he was put into a quiet room.
Dr. Treves told the hospital chairman, Mr Carr Gomm about Merrick. After listening carefully, Mr Gomm wrote a letter to the editor of The Times newspaper. On December 4th, the letter was published. It gave a little insight into Merrick’s life.
After a week from when the letter was published, The Times readers donated over £50,000 in just a week so that Merrick can live in a hospital for all his life. Now, the hospital can afford to take care of him.
Chapter 3 [Extras] (3.1) – A Letter to The Times
“A Letter to the Editor Dear Sir, I am writing to you about a man in our hospital. He needs your help. His name is Joseph Merrick, and he is 27 years old. He is not ill, but he cannot go out of the hospital because he is very, very ugly. Nobody likes to look at him, and some people are afraid of him. We call him the ‘Elephant Man’. Two years ago, Merrick lived in a shop near the London Hospital. For two pence, people could see him and laugh at him. One day Dr Frederick Treves – a hospital doctor – saw Merrick, brought him to this hospital, and looked at him carefully. Dr Treves could not help Merrick, but he gave him his card. Then the shopkeeper, Silcock, took Merrick to Belgium. A lot of people in Belgium wanted to see him, and so after a year Merrick had £50. But then Silcock took Merrick’s £50, left Merrick in Belgium, and went back to London.
Merrick came back to London by himself. Everyone on the train and the ship looked at him, and laughed at him. In London, the police put him in prison. But then they saw Dr Treves’s card, and brought Merrick to the London Hospital. This man has no money, and he cannot work. His face and body are very, very ugly, so of course many people are afraid of him. But he is a very interesting man. He can read and write, and he thinks a lot. He is a good, quiet man. Sometimes he makes things with his hands and gives them to the nurses, because they are kind to him. He remembers his mother, and he has a picture of her. She was beautiful and kind, he says. But he never sees her now. She gave him to Silcock a long time ago.
Can the readers of The Times help us? This man is not ill, but he needs a home. We can give him a room at the hospital, but we need some money. Please write to me at the London Hospital. Yours faithfully, F.C. Carr Gomm Chairman of the London Hospital.”
Chapter 4 Synopsis – Merrick’s First Home
The hospital gave Merrick two rooms at the back of the hospital. His skin got better and he did not smell anymore. He read many books, and loved talking about them. It was difficult for him sometimes, but Merrick did not feel offended or angry. One day, a new nurse came to give him some food. Upon looking at him, she screamed, dropped the food on the floor and ran out of the room. Merrick was not angry about the incident, but he felt sorry for the girl. He accepted that people usually laugh or scream after looking at him, and did not make a fuss out of it.
Merrick told the doctor he was happy, and that the hospital staff were kind. However, he wanted to live in a lighthouse, or a home for blind people. He did not want people to look at him. He said he did not have money and he may not be able to live in the hospital for long.
Dr Treves then explained to him about the letter to The Times. Merrick was speechless.
Chapter 5 Synopsis (5.0) – An Important Visitor
The doctor did not want Merrick to live by himself. He also wanted Merrick to talk to women. One day, Dr Treves’s friend, a beautiful young woman, came to visit Merrick.
Merrick was filled with emotion when the young woman first visited him. He cried for nearly five minutes.
That night, Merrick told the doctor that the woman was wonderful and that it was the first time a woman smiled at him since his mother did many years ago.
A week later, the woman brought another friend with her and they gave Merrick some books to read.
People were now reading about Merrick in the newspapers, and he was getting many visitors. Even the important people visited him, and all of them did not laugh at his appearance. He began feeling like a man instead of a creature.
One day, the Queen of England paid a visit to Merrick. Queen Alexandra gave him some books, and some red flowers during her visit. Her Majesty visited Merrick for a couple of times after that day and even gave him a Christmas Card. Merrick, two days before Christmas, then sent a letter to the Queen, to show his gratitude.
Chapter 5 [Extras] (5.1) – An Important Visitor
The London Hospital, 23rd December 1888
My Dear Queen,
Thank you very, very much for your wonderful card and the beautiful picture. It is the best thing in my room, the very best, the most beautiful thing I have. This is the first Christmas in my life, and my first Christmas present. Perhaps I had a Christmas with my mother once, but I do not remember it. I have my mother’s picture too, and she is beautiful, like you. But now I know many famous ladies and kind people like Dr Treves, and I am a very happy man. I am happy too because I am going to see you in the New Year. Happy Christmas to you, my dear friend.
With all my love,
Chapter 6 Synopsis (6.0) – Outside the Hospital
Merrick had many friends and he was more like a child than a man. After Christmas, he went to the theatre. Mrs Kendal helped him to visit and sit in a spot in the theatre where it was difficult for people to see him but not difficult for him to watch the play. It was a children’s Christmas play and he loved it very much. He remembered this play for a long time.
Merrick then wanted to visit the countryside. Despite the wish being difficult to fulfil, Merrick’s new friends made it come true. He lived in a small house in the country. His lady-friend even allowed him to stay in it for the summer.
Dr Treves returned to London, and Merrick stayed there for six more weeks. Every week he would write to the doctor, and from those letters, the doctor knew he was having an enjoyable time.
He returned to London at the end of summer and his skin looked much better.
Chapter 6 [Extras] (6.1) – Outside the Hospital
Apple Tree House,
West Wickham, Berkshire.
21st July 1889
Dear Dr Treves, I had a wonderful day again today. It was very warm, so I walked under the trees and sat by a stream. No people lived near the house in the country.
A lot of birds are my friends now. The water in the stream made a beautiful noise, like singing. Did you know that? I listened to it for two hours. Lots of little birds came near me. One had a red body in front, and a brown back. I gave it some bread, and it sat on my hand. A lot of birds are my friends, now. I watched the fish in the stream, too. They were very exciting, because they move very fast. One minute they were there, and the next minute I couldn’t see them. But I waited quietly, and they always came back. I put my hand in the water, but I couldn’t touch them. I met a big dog yesterday. It made a very loud noise, but I was not afraid. I sat down quietly and looked at it, and it came and smelt my hand. I saw it again today, and gave it some bread. It likes me now.
I am going to put some flowers from the country in this letter. There are hundreds of flowers here. Did you know that? I like the little blue ones best, but they are all beautiful. I have lots of them in my room. I give them water every morning. Little flowers are very thirsty, you know! I am very happy here, doctor, but I want to see you again soon, too.
With love from your friend,
Chapter 7 Synopsis (7.0) – The Last Letter
In April 1890, Dr Treves found Merrick dead in bed. He was lying on his back, his heavy head off the bed. It broke his neck, he died quickly. Merrick would usually sleep on his knees, but that night, he tried to sleep on his back, like normal men.
The next day, the Chairman of The London Hospital, Mr. Gomm, wrote to the editor of The Times again. It was the second letter to The Times about Merrick since three and a half years ago.
Mr Gomm told the readers of The Times that he was going to use the balance money meant for Merrick, for the hospital. He thanked the readers for their help and for helping Merrick become happy again.
Chapter 7 [Extras] (7.1) – The Last Letter
April 16th, 1890
Three and a half years ago I wrote to you about a man called Joseph Merrick. This man was called the ‘Elephant Man’ because he was born with a very ugly body. Merrick was not ill, but he could not work, and he had no money. The readers of The Times felt sorry for him, and they gave me a lot of money for Merrick. Because of this money, we could give Merrick a home in the London Hospital. It was his first good home, and for three and a half years he lived here happily. The doctors and nurses of the hospital helped him, and many important people visited him. He read many books, he went to the theatre, and in the summer he stayed in the country for six weeks. Because of your readers’ money, we could give him a happy life. Last night Joseph Merrick died quietly in his bed. He was a man with a very ugly body, but he was a good, kind man, and he had a lot of friends. We liked to talk to him, and we are all very sorry because he is dead. A lot of people are going to remember him for a long time. There is some money left, so I am going to give it to the hospital.
Thank you, sir, for your help.
F.C. Carr Gomm Chairman of the London Hospital.
Download your preferred synopsis below.
I strongly suggest that the students should read the full version of the story to give a better understand of it. It only takes a few minutes, and its a beautiful story that you will be really attached to, especially the last chapter, which will send chills through your spine.
Dr. Frederick Treves
- Dr Treves is a dedicated doctor because he insisted to bring Mr. Joseph Merrick to the hospital for a medical examination and possibly, hope to find a remedy to Merrick’s skin condition.
- Immediately “corrects” the postman from thinking he was Merrick, and instead, said that he was a woman. This was to possibly protect Merrick’s identity.
- Wants to help Merrick live a batter life by fulfilling his requests, like being him to the theatre and to the countryside.
- He speaks to Merrick and offers emotional support when he needs it, like meeting Merrick everyday so that he will have someone to talk to.
Mr. Simon Silcock
- An Opportunist
- Takes advantage of Merrick and uses him as a business opportunity, like bringing him around for to be laughed at with a small charge.
- An Untidy Person
- Rotten fruits can be found around his shop. The room which housed Merrick was also smelly.
- He took Merrick’s money and fled Belgium without him.
Mr. Joseph Merrick
- He does not get angry with people who are afraid or makes fun of him. He accepts his flaw and continues life without making a fuss out of it.
- Soft Spoken
- He does not talk much, possibly because many people do not talk to him due to his ugliness.
- A bookworm
- He reads many books and when he was living in the hospital, his room was filled with books.
- He gets very emotional, especially when he was watching a play. He got angry with a character, hit his hand on his chair and stood up to talk to the character mid-play. However, no one heard him.
Mr Carr Gomm
- He accepts to help Merrick on behalf of the hospital by writing a letter to the The Times and requesting financial help from their readers.
- He also understands that Merrick is not ill but needs a place to stay or else he will be neglected.
- He was willing to accept Merrick into the hospital and write about him publicly despite people were afraid of Merrick and that the police were going after Merrick for scaring the public.
- He tells The Times readers that the leftover money meant for Merrick will be donated to the hospital after Merrick’s unfortunate death.