The Elephant Man (1980)

Brief Intro

“The Elephant Man” is a poignant 1980 film directed by David Lynch, based on the true story of Joseph Merrick, a severely deformed man in 19th-century London. The film explores themes of humanity, compassion, and societal cruelty, offering a deeply moving narrative bolstered by powerful performances and artistic direction.

Literary Devices Used in The Elephant Man

The film employs a range of literary devices to enhance its storytelling. Here are ten such devices with specific examples:


Movie SceneDevice Example
Merrick’s model of St. Philip’s CathedralRepresents his longing for normalcy and acceptance.
The theatre audience scenesSymbolize society’s voyeuristic nature and lack of compassion.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Dr. Treves’ first encounter with MerrickHints at the transformative impact Merrick will have on Treves.
The ominous carnival atmospherePreviews the dehumanizing treatment Merrick will endure.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Merrick reciting “The Lord’s Prayer”Highlights the contrast between his physical appearance and his inner humanity.
The well-dressed audience at the freak showIrony of their ‘civilized’ appearance versus their cruel behavior.


Movie SceneDevice Example
The opening dream sequenceUses surreal imagery to convey the trauma of Merrick’s birth.
The stark, monochrome cinematographyEnhances the grim reality of Merrick’s existence.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Merrick’s physical deformitiesMetaphor for society’s moral deformities.
Dr. Treves’ lectures on anatomyMetaphor for the clinical detachment with which society views Merrick.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Merrick’s dignified demeanor vs. his appearanceHighlights the disparity between appearance and reality.
The opulent homes vs. the squalid carnivalEmphasizes class divisions and exploitation.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Merrick’s breakdown in front of TrevesEvokes deep sympathy from the audience.
The hospital staff’s growing affection for MerrickBuilds emotional connection with viewers.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Merrick’s life storyAn allegory for the struggle for dignity and acceptance.
The use of the Victorian settingReflects broader societal issues of the era.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Repeated references to Merrick as a “monster”Highlights the theme of dehumanization.
The recurring image of mirrorsRepresents self-perception and societal reflection.


Movie SceneDevice Example
References to “Frankenstein”Draws parallels between Merrick and the misunderstood monster.
Biblical referencesSuggests themes of redemption and suffering.

Character Analysis Through Literary Devices

Character Studies

Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man)
Literary DeviceExplanation
SymbolismMerrick’s model building symbolizes his inner world and aspirations.
PathosHis gentle nature and tragic circumstances evoke deep empathy.
Dr. Frederick Treves
Literary DeviceExplanation
JuxtapositionHis clinical detachment vs. growing emotional involvement with Merrick.
IronyInitially seeing Merrick as a medical curiosity but later as a friend.
Mrs. Kendal
Literary DeviceExplanation
AllegoryRepresents society’s potential for compassion and understanding.
MetaphorHer friendship with Merrick symbolizes the breaking of social barriers.

Character Dynamics

The relationships between characters drive the narrative and underscore the film’s themes:

  • Merrick and Treves: Their evolving friendship illustrates themes of humanity and moral growth.
  • Merrick and Mrs. Kendal: Showcases the power of compassion and acceptance.
  • Treves and the Hospital Staff: Reflects the broader societal shift from viewing Merrick as a spectacle to recognizing his humanity.

Thematic Analysis

Humanity and Compassion

PathosMerrick’s interactions with kind individuals highlight the theme of compassion.
SymbolismThe hospital as a sanctuary for Merrick symbolizes a place of acceptance and humanity.

Society and Dehumanization

IronyThe civilized society’s cruel treatment of Merrick contrasts their outward respectability.
JuxtapositionThe carnival scenes vs. the hospital scenes emphasize societal hypocrisy.

Isolation and Acceptance

MetaphorMerrick’s physical isolation mirrors his emotional and social isolation.
MotifThe repeated focus on Merrick’s face and deformities underscores his struggle for acceptance.

Cinematic Techniques That Enhance Literary Devices

Visual and Sound Techniques

Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
SymbolismLighting and shadowsHighlight Merrick’s inner turmoil and isolation.
PathosMusic and sound designEvoke empathy and emotional depth in key scenes.

Key Scene Analysis

Scene Selection

  1. Treves’ First Encounter with Merrick
    Watch on YouTube
    Breakdown: The scene uses foreshadowing and imagery to set the tone for the relationship between Treves and Merrick.
  2. Merrick’s Recitation of “The Lord’s Prayer”
    Watch on YouTube
    Breakdown: This scene employs irony and pathos, showcasing Merrick’s inner dignity against the backdrop of societal cruelty.
  3. Final Dream Sequence
    Watch on YouTube
    Breakdown: The dream sequence uses symbolism and surreal imagery to encapsulate Merrick’s life and aspirations.


Interactive Quiz:

  1. Which literary device is used when Merrick’s model of St. Philip’s Cathedral is shown?
  2. How does the film highlight the theme of society and dehumanization?
    • a) Through the use of bright colors
    • b) By contrasting the carnival and hospital scenes
    • c) Using only dialogue
  3. What does Merrick’s relationship with Mrs. Kendal symbolize?
    • a) Isolation
    • b) Friendship
    • c) Breaking social barriers