As the title suggests, The True History of the Elephant Man sets out to give an accurate factual account of a story which has often been sensationalized. This mission is closely related to the theme of the book, which might be summed up as "the folly and cruelty of judging by appearances." Joseph Merrick's short, painful life was marred by his hideous appearance, which frightened people and led them to keep him at arm's length. When Dr. Frederick Treves befriended him, he discovered that Merrick was a kind-hearted and harmless man who was bewildered and hurt by society's treatment of him but less embittered than one might expect.
Treves made it his mission to find a few others who, like him, would not judge Merrick by his appearance, giving him the comfort of genuine friendship. Merrick had never been able to even have a conversation with a woman, so Treves introduced him to a young lady called Leila Maturin. Merrick was overcome with emotion at meeting a woman who was not terrified at his appearance and who actually smiled at him. According to Treves, Merrick conceived the idea of meeting and forming a relationship with a blind woman, who would not be able to see his deformities. Such stories give the reader a picture of an entirely normal man laboring under a terrible misfortune.