What Is the Theme of "The Phantom of the Opera"?

by Crystal Huskey

Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" is an adaptation of Gaston Leroux's novel by the same name. While Leroux's original version is much darker -- it depicts the phantom as more insane than simply tortured -- both have a handful of significant themes.

The True Nature of Love

The overriding theme in "The Phantom of the Opera" is the true nature of love. The phantom, Erik, is desperately in love with Christine, the heroine of the story. He is obsessed with her, although she does not know this in the beginning. Christine falls in love with her childhood friend, Raoul, who loves her in a more selfless way. When the phantom hears their vows of love, he is furious. In the end, he learns true love himself when Christine's pity and compassion, displayed through a kiss, break through his defenses.

Appearance Versus Reality

Nearly the entire story takes place behind the scenes of an opera house. This almost forces the reader or viewer to draw a distinction between reality and appearance. The show draws audience members into the backstage world of the performers. Then it draws them into a world within that world, with interconnected underground tunnels and a tortured, genius "phantom." The tunnels and underground rooms are a mirror of the costumed and often vain performers. The masquerade and the Phantom's mask continue this theme.

Social Standing

Prejudice of varying kinds makes its appearance in "The Phantom of the Opera." When Christine hears the phantom's voice, it draws her to him, but that changes when she sees his face. Prejudice against the abnormal is something that has always negatively affected the phantom. He was an outcast and part of a freak show before entering the opera. With his face burned beyond repair as a baby, his own mother rejected him. The contrast between the phantom's world and the beautiful one of the actors is vivid.

Defining Truth

The theme of "truth" is similar to that of appearance versus reality. The story causes the audience to question the true nature of the characters. We wonder who really is behind the mask. According to Bernice Hills, Ph.D., in her review of "The Phantom of the Opera," masks allow us to hide and "play ribald or dangerous parts," but at the same time, we desperately want people to know us. The phantom covers his scars with his mask, but he also shields his true self from the world and hides beneath the stage.

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