Appearance and Reality
The fact that The Phantom of the Opera takes place behind the scenes of the opera almost automatically draws readers’ attention to the disparity between reality and appearances. Leroux gives backstage details, starting with the dancers who line up in the first chapter, gossiping, and continuing on to point out the backdrops and the business arrangements that few opera goers are allowed to see. Unlike most backstage stories, though, this novel also goes into details about the Paris opera house that few of the average workers would be aware of, such as the complicated system of tunnels underneath the building, with furnaces and prisons and hoards of rats and even a lake. Some of these details might be exaggerated from reality, but they are plausible as the reality of the novel. They clearly indicate that, as much as the sets and costumes create a false world on the stage, the opera house that visitors enter only reveals part of the story regarding what it takes to put on a grand spectacle.
The phantom himself is also used as a symbol to represent the ways that reality and appearance differ. The most obvious example of this is, of course, the mask that he wears. When he is wearing his mask, Christine can believe that he is a poor, misunderstood man who has just not been given the attention he deserves. When he represents himself to her as the Spirit of Music, she responds to his musical gift and really does see him as angelic. Once she sees Erik without his mask, however, she is so horrified that she can never think fondly of him again.
In addition to the phantom’s looks, however, his whole existence is one big charade. He is greatly gifted, but his talents are in making voices seem to appear where no one is actually talking; in coming and going without being seen; in overhearing conversations that seem to be private; and in making people think that they see things that are impossible, as in when his torture chamber turns out to be a hall of illusions. He is known as a phantom for a reason: no one is ever really sure that he exists.
(The entire section is 876 words.)