What allegories are found in The Elephant Man?

Allegories can be seen in The Elephant Man on several levels. Merrick's personal story can be viewed as an allegory of Christ. A more general sense of allegory occurs in the action of the play as a whole, where society's treatment of Merrick is a metaphor of any situation in which someone who is different—the Other—is isolated or persecuted simply for not being the same as other people.

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Many who have seen either the play The Elephant Man or the film version of it are likely to regard John Merrick as a Christ figure and the story on the whole as an allegory of the suffering and death of Jesus. Merrick is alone in a hostile world. His face must be hidden from others because of his deformity. Only a handful of people know him or know who he really is and therefore can see beyond the external disfigurement.

Those few capable of viewing him as a man rather than a monster are a select group, similar to Jesus's disciples. In some ways, those who do know him are transformed and are granted a kind of salvation in having learned that the inner person is what matters, not his physical appearance. But Merrick's story, if understood, has the potential to grant salvation to anyone who witnesses it or learns about it. In the end, Merrick chooses to die, as Jesus did, as if having completed his mission of reaching out to people and providing them with the lesson of tolerance and acceptance. The way in which he dies by asphyxiation is similar to the manner in which Jesus died on the cross.

A less specific allegorical theme in The Elephant Man is that of Merrick as the Other, or even more broadly, as Everyman. His deformity is a symbol of any feature that separates one from the majority and causes one to be rejected, marginalized, or persecuted. Yet all people have something, however small in most cases, that differentiates them from others and is misunderstood by them.

In the stage version, Merrick appears first with no makeup, his face looking like anyone else's. On the one hand, the audience must exercise its imagination to see Merrick's face as the other characters see it. But the author's point is that Merrick is like anybody else, and that the people who see him as different, as a monster, are the ones who are under a delusion. The story presents itself as an allegory of any kind of prejudice—racial, class, gender, religious, and so on—that exists in the world, in which being "different" is judged a defect.

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