Bernard Pomerance And The Elephant Man Essay

, Research Paper


Drama 10:00

May 2, 2000

Bernard Pomerance and The Elephant Man

Bernard Pomerance was born in 1940 in Brooklyn, New York. He attended college at the University of Chicago, where he received a degree in English. In the 1970’s Pomerance moved to London, England to become a novelist. He was unsuccessful and then decided to try his hand as a dramatist. He quickly got involved with several left-wing fringe groups, which where at the time thriving in England. Then, along with director Ronald Rees, he founded the Foco Nove Theater group. Throughout Pomeranc’s career nearly all of his plays were at one time preformed at his Foco Novo theater..

Pomerance became fairly successful as a play write. His first play, High in Vietnam Hot Damn, was first produced by the Foco Novo Theater group in 1971 in London. Hospital and Thanksgiving Before Detroit where also produced by the Foco Novo Theater group in 1971. In 1972 a play called Foco Novo was produced by the Foco Novo Theater group. In 1974 Someone Else is Still Someone was produced. A adaption of a play by Brecht, A Man’s a Man, was produced in 1975. The Elephant Man, Pomerance’s only really popular piece of work came out in 1979. It was first produced at the Hempstead Theater in London. It was then produced off Broadway at the Theater of St. Peters church, and on Broadway at the Booth Theater in New York City. After The Elephant Man Pomerance produced Faber in 1981 and Melons in 1985, but neither became popular like The Elephant Man. During Pomerance’s career he also published one novel called We Need to Dream All This Again, but it was unsuccessful. Most of Pomerance’s plays were reasonably liked, but none were recognized and praised like The Elephant Man. The Elephant man received a Tony, the Drama Desk Award, the New York Critics Award, and an Obi all in 1979.

In 1980 The Elephant Man was made into a movie. The movie was also popular and received high praise. John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Wendy Hiller, and Anne Bancraft all stared in the movie and did an excellent job. Although the movie was as popular as the play, it was extemely different. One of the major problems with the movie is the makeup of John Merrick, the main character. Because it is a movie they can not rely on the theatricalness of the play. Merrick’s character is forced to where a horrible costume which makes him almost to difficult to look at. This makes it very different from the play because in the play it is extremely important that the actor does nothing to make himself look the way the real John Merrick looked.

In 1980, in one of the most famous productions of The Elephant Man, the main character of John Merrick was played by David Bowie. Merrick’s character is extremely difficult to play. The entire play, including the tittle is based on the deformities of John Merrick, yet the actor who preforms his roll is forced to do so using no padding or makeup to make himself look deformed. They must rely solely on their talent to persuade the audience to believe how terrible he looks. It is imperative to the play that they do not ware any kind of costume to make themselves look deformed. The only thing they are allowed to do is bend their bodies. Anything else is believed to take away form the play tremendously.

The Elephant Man is a true story inspired by a man named John Merrick. Merrick was born in 1863 and died in 1890 at the young age of only 27. He suffered from a genetic disorder known as nevrotibromatosis. His body was grotesquely deformed. His head was thirty-six inches in circumference, and he had large lumps all over his body. He had no use of his right arm but, his left arm was normal. His body was so deformed he could hardly walk, and he talked with an accent that made him difficult to understand. The only part of Merrick that was completely normal and functioning were his sex organs, but because he was so horrifying he was never able to experience them. Merrick’s disease was once thought to be a result of his mother being attacked by an elephant when she was pregnant, thus he received the name Elephant Man. Merrick was sent away to a factory to work as a very young child. There he was treated horribly and abused. Later a man took him in and brought him to a carnival were he was a side freak show. People payed money to look at him and be frightened. There he was also abused. He was treated as if he was an animal, but this was the only way of life he new and understood. Towards the end of Merrick’s life he was befriended by a well respected doctor, Frederick Treves. With the help of the police Dr. Treves took Merrick out of the carnival and gave him a home in a hospital in London. Because the hospital was caring for such a person, they received large contributions. Many believe this is the only reason they helped Merrick. At first they had trouble because no one could care for Merrick because everyone was horrified of him, but they eventually found an actress who could do it. As they cleaned Merrick up he proved to be a highly intelligent, and sensitiva man. He was introduced to many people during his stay at the hospital. He met actors, doctors, and even some royalty. As Merrick grew more and more to be like the rest of society, he grew weaker and weaker. All John Merrick ever wanted was to be like everyone else, but in the end this was said to be the disease that killed him.

Part of what makes the play so great is that it functions on theatrical, emotional, literary, and metaphorical levels. Because the actor who plays Merrick’s character uses no costume the play becomes very theatrical. The actor has to express himself through his actions deeply in order for the audience to understand the severeness of hid deformities. The story behind Merrick and the way people treated him simply because of the way he looked causes the play to become very emotional. This is something everyone can relate to, and no one is proud of. The play is literary because it tells the beautiful story of a mans life and how he suffered then thrived then suffered again. Pomerance did an excellent job of using both Merrick and Dr. Treves metophoricly. Merrick represents people and his deformities represent our uniqueness. People in the play run from Merrick’s deformities the way people in society run away from people who are not like the rest of the crowd. Dr. Treves represents rules and conformity. The rules are meant to help us, and they do, but in the end conformity strips of our individuality and destroys our uniqueness. Pomerance uses religion to express this metaphor in one example. Merrick wants strongly to believe in God,(individuality) but Dr. Treves begins to doubt his religious beliefs and discourages Merrick because he see’s no scientific proof of a God (conformity).

The theme of The Elephant Man is the arbitrariness of existence posed against a hunger for design. Everyone in life tries to fit in and be like everyone else, especially Merrick. It starts in grade school and continues through out life. As children we want the same toys our friends have or the ones we see on TV. As we get older it becomes imperative that we have name brand clothing and shoes. We style our hair the way others do and even try to make our bodies look the way society says they should. When we reach adult hood the problem doesn’t go away. We buy named brand food, appliances, and even cars. This continues until we die when our family covers our graves with expensive flowers. No matter how much people strive to be like others, inside everyone there is a hunger to be them self. People have opinions and certain uniqueness that they can not help but to feel. The Elephant Man was treated so horribly that all he ever wanted was to be treated normal and liked. He spent his entire stay at the hospital putting piece by piece of a model together until it was perfect. He learned to speak like everyone, dress like them, and even think like him, but inside he still felt the way he did all along. A simple more obvious theme is the way people judge others based upon appearance. No one would even talked to Merrick at first simply because he was ugly, but once they got to know him they saw that he was actually a beautiful person. Though simple this is an important theme because it happens so much in life. People are so quick to judge others by the way they look or dress when the no nothing about them.

Although the play was highly awarded it had several flaws. In the beginning The Dr. appeared to be the main focus of the play, then it switches to Merrick, then in one scene, Dr. Treves is thrown back into the main focus. Then in the end Merrick is again the focus. Another problem is the way society was viewed. This was supposed to based on a true story, but everyone is made to look bad. The authors view on humanity is extremely negative. Know one in the play does anything with good intentions. Also a point is made to say that all of Merrick’s sexual organs function normal, but when Mrs. Kendal disrobes for Merrick his only reply is that she is beautiful. He describes the situation as paradise, when any normally functioning male would experience frustration instead. Pomerance wrote with the intentions of expressing several themes but didn’t go into deep enough detail to make them clear. The first act of the play leads you to believe that the play will have a much deeper meaning than is revealed in the second act. Throughout the play their are several parts that are difficult to understand. In the beginning of the play it is difficult to understand the doctors intentions with Merrick. Is he trying to fix him, study him or just make him “normal” like everyone else. If they are just trying to make him normal than why is it such a big deal. I don’t understand why London would pay so much money just to try to make one man feel normal. And if they only want him to feel normal than why is he visited by royalty. Another part that is difficult to understand is why his life expectancy is so short. He is in his twenties when he arrives at the hospital and everyone immediately assumes he has a really short life expectancy. Of the entire play the most difficult part to understand was the ending. How does Merrick die? Does he kill himself? Does the hospital have him killed? Is that why everyone is so sure that he will not live long? Is he murdered by the Pin Heads? Do the Pin Heads even exist or is Merrick dreaming? I feel like the author made this extremely important part of the play to difficult to for the average reader to understand.

Although Bernard Pomerance has only had one exceptional play, he is fairly known and respected as a play write. Pomerance is not too well known though, because he keeps to himself. He has rarely been known to do an interview or be seen in the public eye. The play The Elephant Man is a good play. It’s themes are good, and meant to help people in the way they see themselves and others. Although it seemed to have a few problems, Pomerance did an excellent job of telling the true story of a man who was treated by everyone so horribly, and then when they tried to fix what they had done to him and make him normal they killed him.

“Bernard Pomerance.” Contemporary authors. Vol. 49

“Bernard Pomerance.” Contemporary Authors. Vol. 101

“Bernard Pomerance.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 13

Bernard Pomerance and The Elephant Man

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1940

Moved to London, England to be a novelist but was unsuccessful

Decided to become a play write and wrote many plays

-High in Vietnam Hot Damn


-Thanksgiving Before Detroit

-Foco Novo

-Someone Else is Still Someone

-A Mans a Man

-The Elephant Man

- Faber


The Elephant man was Pomerance’s most popular play and it won Many awards


-Drama Desk Award

-New York drama Critics Award


Made into movie in 1980 staring John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Wendy Hiller, and Anne Bancraft.

Preformed by David Bowie the rock singer in 1979

True story of John Merrick who lived from 1863 to 1890. He was deformed and had a head that was 36′ in circumference.

John Merrick and Dr. Treves are used metophoricly. John represents people and his deformities their uniqueness. Dr. Treves represents rules and conformity.


-the arbitrariness of existence, posed against a hunger for design.

-the simple theme of miss judging people buy their appearance.


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