Belonging- Dickinson and Elephant Man

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The idea of belonging is an important and fundamental value in our lives. Belonging most commonly emerges from experience and notions of identity, relationships, acceptance and understanding. Belonging also emerges in our places of comfort and security.

Today in my showcase I will be presenting to you the poetry of Miss Emily Dickinson as well as the filmic production of the Elephant man, directed by David Lynch. Through my showcase I hope to present to you a view of belonging that isn’t plagued by the stereotypes of society but a belonging that is true and real to the people that know it so intimately.

One of Emily Dickinson’s poems known as ‘my letter to the world’ describes Dickinson’s plea to society, to understand and not judge her harshly. This is evident in the words ‘judge tenderly of me’. Which shows an appealing tone and a desire for acceptance.

Likewise the filmic version of the elephant man also describes a desire for acceptance. This desire is seen through John Merrick who suffers from an incurable disease that leaves him terribly disfigured. I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I... am... a man!" Here we have Merrick’s plea to be seen not as an animal but as a human being.

Throughout the film we watch as Merrick is treated as an absolute freak, seen in his involvement in a circus which denotes to a sense of ridicule and also we see his worthlessness through the possessive pronouns such as ‘my freak, and the constant use of ‘it’ which dehumanises him. As the film progresses Merrick becomes more and more publicised and soon his so called ‘isolation’ ward is packed with people who want to get a glimpse of him. He even receives a standing ovation which is symbolic of the changing attitudes of the people. But despite Merricks perceived sense of belonging to the society in which once degraded him the film concludes with the idea that to belong one may just want to be like everyone else. “I just want to be a human”...
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