Elephant Man

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  Introduction   Elephant Man is the true story of the life of Joseph Merrick who lived in England. He was born on August 5, 1862 and died in April 1890. He is remembered for two things: the disease, now known as multiple neurofibromatosis, which made his appearance repulsive to most people; and secondly, his gentle and kind personality which won him many friends and made the last years of his life happy.   Early Days   Joseph seemed to be a normal baby, but around the age of 21 months, strange growths appeared on his head, face, lips, and right hand. No one knew why this happened. His mother thought it was because she had been frightened and knocked down by an elephant, that had escaped from the fair, when she was pregnant. Somehow, she thought, her fear had caused her young boy to grow ugly, big and wrinkled, like an elephant.   Joseph's mother loved him very much. She didn't care about his looks. She sent him to school and tried to treat him like other children. She had another baby, William Arthur, and finally, a daughter, Marion Eliza. Joseph's mother got sick when she was 36 years old, and she died soon after. Joseph was just 10 years old.   His father remarried - this time to a young widow, named Emma, who had children of her own. She didn't like Joseph because of his appearance, and treated him badly. He began to run away to his uncle's place, but usually his father would come to take him home again. Joseph was very unhappy, and one day when he was 15, he ran away, never to return to his father's house. He never saw his father again.   Joseph lived with his uncle for two years. He was happy. To earn money, he sold gloves and stockings to people in the street. But Joseph became more and more repulsive, and the growths on his body got larger and more grotesque. He quit his work of selling gloves and stockings because people in the street were afraid of him. His uncle couldn't keep him any longer. And so, just after Christmas in 1879, Joseph moved into a workhouse for poor people.   Physical Characteristics   Joseph grew more and more unsightly as he grew older. Although he was only 5'2 tall, parts of his body were very big. The circumference of his huge head was 36 . His enormous skull was irregular in shape. There were growths the size of oranges popping out of his skull. He had little hair, and kept losing it until he was almost bald. Although his left arm and hand were of normal size and had smooth skin, his right wrist was 12 in circumference, and it was clumsy and useless to Joseph. His biggest finger was 5 around.   Strangely, however, his fingernails were perfect. His skin hung in loose folds, or wrinkles, over his body and it was rough. Growths like cauliflowers covered his body. It was hard to keep himself clean, so Joseph wreaked of a foul odor.    Because his lips were so twisted, it was hard to understand Joseph's speech. Many people thought he was an imbecile, or very stupid. But in fact, Joseph was very intelligent.   The Days of Vanity Fair    Mr. Sam Torr was a comedian and a showman. He sang funny songs and played tricks. He was also interested in exhibiting freaks and monsters such as The Electric Lady , midgets, and now, The Elephant Man . People would pay a few pennies to see Joseph, nearly naked. They could see his huge right hand, the ugly lumps on his head, and his twisted lips and mouth. The show moved from one town to the next.   When the show reached London a young doctor named Frederick Treves went to see Joseph. He was very interested in Joseph's sickness and he examined Joseph carefully. He wanted to tell other doctors about this strange human being, hoping they would help in diagnosing Joseph's problems. Treves' colleagues, however, were not interested.   The show moved on to other towns and cities. Joseph was cared for and he was earning money. He was content. But then, people stopped coming to the freak shows. They did not think it was funny to see human beings like the Elephant Man. Instead, they felt sorry for him and many people asked the police to close down the show.   Once again, Joseph was alone and poor. He took the train back to London, and having no money, no job, no friends, and nowhere to go, he took a chance on asking Dr. Treves for help. It was Joseph's saddest moment.   Happy   Days   Dr. Treves remembered Joseph immediately, and went to help him. He brought him to the hospital where he gave Joseph a room to himself. The nurses bathed him and fed him.   Soon Joseph was happy again. Although he could not easily leave the hospital because he would frighten people on the street, Dr. Treves found interesting people who came to the hospital to befriend Joseph. These friends didn't care that Joseph was ugly. They took him to the theatre, on holidays in the country, and came often to his room to visit him. They gave money to the hospital to help take care of Joseph for the rest of his life.   Joseph became famous, and famous people such as the Princess of Wales wanted to be his friend. Dr. Treves was probably Joseph's best friend. They visited everyday: they talked, looked at pictures and enjoyed each other's company. Joseph loved to spend time making models of the beautiful cathedral he could see from his window.   The End   Joseph became weaker and sicker. When he was only 27 he was like an old man. His head was enormous, and he was in danger of choking in his sleep from the weight of his head. Dr. Treves knew there was no cure or treatment for the disease. Still, Joseph was happy with the visits of his friends, his few trips out of the hospital, his reading, and writing letters.    The end came on April 11, 1890. Joseph died gently and peacefully in his sleep.    Adapted from Howell, M. and Ford, P. 1980: The true story of the Elephant Man.   London, England: Allison and Busby Ltd., Adapted by Hetty Roessingh.   The picture appears on p. 98 of the book.   Elephant Man   1. What is the medical name for Joseph's disease?   2. Where did the name Elephant Man  come from?   3. How many children were there in Joseph's family?   4. After Joseph quit school, he had to earn money. What did he do to earn money?   5. Why did Joseph want to quit his job?   6. Joseph had many unusual physical characteristics. In the chart below, compare your physical characteristics to Joseph's.   Physical Characteristics   Me   Joseph   Height   Circumference of skull   Circumference of right wrist   Circumference of thumb   Texture of skin   Fingernails   7. Measure the height of everyone in the class. Chart the information on the blackboard, remembering to give the chart a title, noting the total N (number of people you measured), and labelling the x and y axis of the chart. Write a short report about your findings. Use the following vocabulary in your report:      tallest shortest range average   mean mode median data   Use these questions to guide your writing:   What did we do?    What did we find?    What does it mean?    8. After the job of selling things on the street, what work did Joseph do to earn money?   9. People stopped coming to the freak shows. Why?   10. Who did Joseph go to when he was poor, alone and had nowhere to go?   11. Where did Joseph go to live for the rest of his life?   12. Why was it so hard to visit with Joseph?   13. Do you remember ever feeling different from other people? _______    How did you feel?   Tell the class about a time you really wanted to be like others, but you couldn't be. What stopped you from doing what you wanted to do?   14. Joseph's days in the hospital were happy ones. Give three reasons why:   15. In English we sometimes say, never judge a book by its cover , or beauty is only skin deep . What do you think these expressions mean?  
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