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A question that lurks at the heart of Bernard Pomerance's script for The Elephant Man involves the potential for hypocrisy in the physician, Frederick Treves, essentially adopting the horrifically deformed John Merrick for the purposes of conducting research into his patient's condition. When Treves first encounters Merrick, the latter is being exploited as an object of derision and morbid fascination, people paying to gaze upon his enormous deformity while this gentle, intelligent man suffers silently. While the well-intentioned Treves provides Merrick a welcoming sanctuary and the benefits of whatever comfort Treves' staff can provide, however, the question lingers in the background as to whether the physician himself is somehow benefiting by the condition of his patient and subject. The latter word, "subject," implies an object of observation and can, under certain circumstances, be dehumanizing. This possible contradiction is raised in Scene VIII of Pomerance's play, when one of the story's antagonists, the hospital orderly Porter, suggests that, just possibly, Treves' interest in Merrick exists on the same moral plane as that of the malevolent personalities that have more openly exploited the 'elephant man's' condition: "Just keeping him to look at in private. That's all. Isn't it?"
Treves, of course, is fascinated by Merrick's condition from the cold, distant perspective of the scientist hoping to study this individual's unique ailment. He has displayed Merrick's deformed physique before a gathering of colleagues and others, dehumanizing his very human "subject" all in the name of science. The irony in the benevolent physician's treatment of his human subject while purportedly saving him from the indignity of being paraded before the public in a circus is very much the point of Pomerance's scene.
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