Yes, I totally did that on purpose.
For those of you who haven’t read the book, one chapter is titled “Box Five” and the succeeding section is identical to the title I just jotted down for this post. So yeah, that was totally planned and I am very pleased with myself now.
This post is going to be about the characters and emotions of the novel the Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. (For disclaimers, etc. visit my last blog post).
The plot is amazing. The writing is amazing. It’s a great book. But what really, truly sets it apart are the people the story revolves around. Each is so real that it’s sometimes hard to believe the novel is a work of fiction. My family has both been through and studied a lot of therapy, and we’ve always been fascinated by the intricacies of the human brain and soul. The Phantom of the Opera is a study in human nature. It’s not just a mystery novel — it’s exploring the soul.
Every character is vastly different from all the others throughout the book. Raoul, for instance, is the only central character that grew up privileged. I’ve noticed in my own life that those with wealth, prestige, famous parents, etc. usually take a while longer to mature emotionally — Raoul is a prime example of that. He has a huge heart and is very brave, though I think often that bravery could be explained as reckless idiocy. He never thinks before he acts, and he sees the world through rose-colored glasses that about halfway through the book you want to crush under your stiletto. But he will go to any lengths to do what he deems right.
Christine is an angel. She is everything I want to be. I’m loud, stubborn, and struggle with my temper. (Thank goodness for family that repeatedly talk me out of committing murder). She is so gentle and loving and good. She’s spunky and unafraid to be herself, but she is able to look past others’ faults and see straight into their hearts. Her modesty and chastity are well-known, and she usually puts everyone else as her first priority. She initially seems like the quintessential Mary Sue, but as you delve deeper into the character you find a fire burning in that sweet heart. She gets angry, but it’s for very good reasons. She knows what she wants and works towards it. She is completely three-dimensional. Her kindness is unparalleled, and while it sometimes clouds her judgment, her intelligence is still strong (while occasionally misguided). By the end of the book, you respect and love her so much. You feel blessed to have gotten to know that beautiful soul with all its quiet strength.
(Image credit to muirin007 at deviantart. She’s amazing).
The only way I can adequately describe the Persian is “awesome.” Seriously. The man is amazing. His bravery and compassion are wondrous to behold. He’s very smart, and in another life probably could have been Sherlock Holmes’ rival in the detective department. It’s almost hard for me to see him as the ‘daroga,’ the head of the government police. He describes a little of what he’s seen in Persia, but mostly just alludes to things too horrible to repeat. It’s amazing to me that a man with as much integrity as he has kept that position for so long. It makes me wonder what was going on behind the scenes, whether the leaders were just waiting for an opportunity to boot him out of power. When he saved Erik, he was promptly banished from his native country. But the man’s bravery is shown as he travels to Paris to keep an eye on his old acquaintance. He knows all too well what Erik is capable of. He gets ticked off, what happens then? The Persian puts it upon himself to keep Erik in check, often at his own risk. He still has a lot to lose, but he puts it all on the line to ensure the ‘Opera Ghost’ and everyone else live in peace. At the end, he puts his trusted relationship with Erik at stake when he helps Raoul break into the underground house to save Christine. Still, Erik knows him as his closest friend, really, as I’m not entirely sure how to explain the dynamic between the two of them without using words that don’t exist. Neither trusts the other completely, both hold grudges, but they still care about the other almost as friends. I think this speaks volumes of the Persian’s soul. He could despise Erik for so many reasons — goodness knows he has enough! — but still has hope that there’s something better in him. At the beginning of the book, when Leroux writes about interviewing the daroga and is unsure of whether or not his tale is fabricated, he says that he “found out as much as [he] could about the Persian and concluded that he was an honest man incapable of contriving a machination that might mislead justice.” That is a very accurate description of our daroga. He does what’s right no matter what the consequences. And even if those consequences are not in his best interests, he has no regrets because he knows he made the right decision.
Erik. I feel honored to have gotten to know him through this book. Having been through some pretty rough things myself, I’ve seen first-hand how one’s circumstances can change a person, even in ways you could never imagine. Erik grew up feared by his family, used by his employers, and finally wound up hiding in a basement. His mother gave him his first mask so “she wouldn’t have to see [him] anymore.” He was hired to commit the worst crimes imaginable. Don’t tell me what he has suffered hasn’t affected him. He has been hurt more than I could ever imagine, and what he has become is a coping mechanism against all the pain he has experienced from the day he was born.
(Image credit to muirin007 on deviantart. I told you she’s amazing).
Erik believes himself to be outside the human race. He thinks what he does is justified because he’s not in any way related to those he comes in contact with. In his mind, he’s a monster. He hates it, but he’s learned how to use his ‘status’ for his benefit. He’s done many, many horrible things, some contracted by a big-wig, some just because he thought it necessary for his personal gain. By the time he arrived in Persia, he had committed many horrors, as “he seemed not to know the difference between right and wrong.” I don’t believe that. He’s not stupid. But imagine after all he had been through, what more would he have known? In his life, I would assume, all he had known was pain. What you learn is what you teach, and he acted according to what he was used to. Add to that the feeling of being apart, being inhuman, a monster, and one can easily see why he behaved the way he did. I am in no way trying to justify what he’s done, but trying to see the man behind the mask.
(Image credit to muirin007 at deviantart. Again).
Still, for all his crimes, his capacity for love never fails to touch me. In Persia, he was given free reign. He was encouraged to rip out all the stoppers to his genius, and part of that genius is an understanding of cruelty. He should be proud of what he had done! He gained power and prestige, and a semblance of acceptance. Why wouldn’t he relish those memories? But when the Persian reminds him of “the Rosy Hours of Mazenderan,” Erik becomes suddenly sad and claims that he no longer remembers them. He prefers to forget them, he says. He has the guts, but more than that, the heart to feel remorse for what was done in Persia at his hand. Then there’s his caring for the Persian. He could easily have been irritated — and I’m pretty sure he was — that he followed him to the Opera to keep an eye on him, but instead he went out of his way to greet and talk to him, and even spared his life. Later, when the Persian had led Raoul down to his house, Erik could have been furious. But instead, as he was dying, he came to speak one last time to his old friend.
Then there were his mother and Christine. He saved every relic he could from his mother, despite the fact that she could never bring herself to love her own son. She would run away when he would try to kiss her. She feared him so much he learned early of his ‘monstrosity’. And get this: French is his native language. So why does he speak like a child? Was his mother afraid even of his voice? Did she ban him from speaking? Yet he never speaks of her in anger. When he talks about her, you see how much he loves her. He always refers to her as his “poor, miserable mother” as if it were his fault she hated him. It’s as if he views her as an angel incapable of wrong.
Then he meets Christine. She’s beautiful and broken, and I think a part of him wants to fix her. She misses her father, and he jumps on his chance. He becomes her Angel of Music, a replacement father-figure. He loves her voice (he helped create it, after all), but what he really loves is her soul. She is kind and compassionate with a love of music that he shares. She is gentle and loving, and I strongly suspect that he believes her goodness will redeem him. He feels whole with her. He would do anything for her, but as he descends further and further into madness, that becomes dangerous. He’s even stooping to murder and suicide, petty name-calling and being, as Christine says, “a drunk demon.” But at the end, when the love of his life gives up everything for him, something in him awakens. He has been shown kindness, kindness without expectation, and he sees the wrong of what he has done to Christine. Crying, he lets her go, and it soon kills him. It’s like his last ray of hope was snuffed out, leaving him with only the next life open to him.
(Image credit to muirin007 on deviantart. Do you see why I stalk her?)
Erik is like a child. Feeling small, he puffs himself into something bigger so he feels ‘okay’. He wants his existence to be justified. A coping mechanism I’ve used for as long as I can remember was being stuck in a child’s mentality. It’s a protection against the horrors of the world and the bad things I’ve experienced. With the help of my therapist, I’ve begun to grow up, but Erik hasn’t had anyone to help him out of that. He is exceedingly childish often, which is by turns annoying and adorable. For instance, after he finishes yelling at and threatening the Persian, he plops down in his boat and begins kicking the sides, impatiently waiting for a response. He loves pranks, and is very proud of his genius. He’s a big diva! His child nature has protected him, saving him from not only the outward things that hurt him, but the inner pain he can’t escape. In some ways, he’s as innocent as Raoul and Christine. For all his lack of scruples and the horrible things he’s totally okay with (i.e. murder, torture, lying, etc.), he refuses to have any relations with Christine until they are married. She says herself that as he was raving at her after she pulled off his mask, “I’d been able to judge the savageness of his passion from his frenzied way of looking at me, or rather his frenzied way of moving the two black holes of his invisible eyes toward me. Since he hadn’t taken me in his arms when I couldn’t have put up any resistance, that monster must also have been an angel.” He could easily have raped her at any time, or drugged her, or whatever. But he had his heart set on marriage. I think that part of his reticence to harm her in that way was part of his childlike nature. He’s retained innocence in that field, and I think sexuality frightens him. That, too, makes me wonder what he’s been through. Was he raped? Sexually assaulted in any way? He’s protecting both himself and Christine by abstaining. I really don’t think he understands completely what marriage is. I think he sees it as having a friend he cares about more than anyone by his side at all times. As he’s attempting to convince her into marriage, he describes what life with him would be like. He wants a wife to take out on Sundays. They would sing together until they were ready to die from pleasure. He tells her she would never be bored with him, as he’s got countless tricks up his sleeve, not counting card tricks. He shows her his skill at ventriloquism. From the way he’s talking, in his simple language, there isn’t even the barest hint of anything other than what five-year-olds would consider fun on a playdate. Not once does he allude to anything more. That’s something that irritates me so much about the musical. The song ‘the Point of No Return’ is basically a piece on wanting sex. I think — I’m sure — my Erik would be appalled. He was going to save himself and Christine until after they were married. Good gracious, he nearly fell to pieces when Christine allowed him to kiss her forehead! He had never expected that to happen, not ever! To me, that is one of the most profound examples of love. He would never harm her. He never even expected to kiss her forehead. He would never take advantage of her like that. I want a man that respects me like that. I learned that from my Erik.
(Image credit to sebassy at deviantart. One of my favorite pictures of Erik and Christine).
Erik can be a true monster — I am not denying that. But I would like to share this quote by Leroux found in the epilogue:
“Poor, unhappy Erik! Should we pity him? Should we curse him? He asked only to be someone like everyone else. But he was too ugly. He had either to hide his genius or play tricks with it, when, with an ordinary face, he would have been one of the noblest members of the human race. He had a heart great enough to hold the empire of the world, and in the end he had to be content with a cellar. Clearly, then, we must pity the Opera ghost.”
(Image credit to muirin007 on deviantart. So grateful for her work).
I learned so much from these people. I can’t view them as characters. They lift me up, teach me, and remind me what’s really important in life: love. God loves us all. We study a lot of near-death experiences in my house, and everyone that has ever glimpsed the other side comes back with the message that the most important thing in the universe is love. Christ died for us out of love. God lives to serve us out of love. That is what the story of the Phantom of the Opera is about.