Beauty is a Beast

This is the term paper that I did  this year for my senior English class. We were allowed to do whatever topic we wanted as long as the paper was persuasive. I had almost 300 notcards and page upon page of writing for the final draft which had to be three to five pages in length. Unfortunately, a lot of good stuff got cut out, but it got the point across and got me an "A".


May 12, 2002

Beauty is a Beast
Thesis: Despite possessing attributes considered abominable to man, the Phantom of the Opera was not a monster.

Abominable attributes
A. Appearance
B. Violent temper
C. Murderous streak

Reasons for attributes and how they were dealt with
A. Birth
B. Treatment from others
C. Repulsiveness

Beauty of the Phantom
A. Genius in architecture
B. Other areas of brilliance
C. Musical genius
D. Angel of  Music
E. Christine Daae

Beauty is a Beast

     "Track down this murderer- he must be found! Hunt out this animal who runs to ground! Who is this monster, this murdering beast? This animal must never go free!" is the vengeful chant of the mob stalking the resident Phantom of the Paris Opera House. Despite possessing attributes considered abominable to man, the Phantom of the Opera was not a monster.

     The Phantom’s real name was Erik, a pariah of society due to his grossly disfigured appearance. His golden eyes, deeply set in their sockets, were barely visible in the daylight. His skin was so tightly drawn across his thin frame that it gave him the appearance of a skeleton and had a yellowish tint to it. The cartilage of his nose was not properly formed making it invisible from his profile. He had only three or four long, dark locks of hair that covered his forehead and hung behind his ears. Erik wore a full black satin mask to hide his visage, but it did not stop eyes from staring at him.

      His appearance was not the only thing that caused people to fear him.  The daroga, a commander of officers for the shah of Persia, had known Erik for a long time and feared his temper. He said of Erik, "I cannot repeat too often that ever since I had found Erik living in the Opera, I had been afraid of his horrible whims." His terror of Erik was, perhaps, not completely unfounded. Erik did not take kindly to people intruding upon what he considered to be his property or ignoring his demands. He would cause disastrous events to occur as punishment.  Erik’s temper, however, rarely came to the fore unless he felt threaten or the need to defend himself. When the chorus girl, Christine Daae, with whom he had fallen in love with, went to Perros to visit her father’s grave and her suitor, Raoul the Vicomte de Chagney, followed her, Erik attacked him for intruding.

      When the daroga followed Erik to Paris and searched the Opera House for Erik’s home, Erik issued him this warning about invading his privacy: "I’m telling you that with your recklessness people will finally wonder what your looking for here and they’ll find out that you’re looking for Erik and they’ll begin looking for Erik too, and they’ll discover the house by the lake. Then very bad things will happen, my friend. I won’t answer for anything… If Erik’s secrets don’t remain Erik’s secrets, it will be too bad for many members of the human race!

     The daroga’s fear was also increased by Erik’s murderous streak. While Erik was in service to the shah of Persia he was given the task of entertaining the shah’s favorite sultana, who enjoyed nothing more than watching Erik kill men twice his size with the Punjab lasso.  During this period, known as the Rosy Hours of Mazenderan, the daroga began to refer to Erik as "the prince of stranglers".   The daroga also described Erik’s crimes in Persia: "He was guilty of quite a few horrors during that time for he seemed not to know the difference between right and wrong. He calmly took part in a number of political assassinations and used his diabolical inventions against the Emir of Afghanistan, who was at war with the empire."

      These are only a few of the multitude of charges against Erik. Have you written him off already as a madman? What caused him to behave in this manner? Did he have any redeeming qualities whatsoever?   

     Erik was born sometime in the 1840s in Rouen, France to a mason and his wife. Embarrassed and even fearful of their disfigured son, they treated him worse than the animals. Erik’s father would have nothing to do with the boy and his mother would even run in fear from him. " Even my father never saw me and my weeping mother gave me my first mask so that she wouldn’t have to look at me." How could parents do that to their child? They deprived their son of love and compassion and did nothing to protect him from the cruelty of neighbors and their children. The customs of the day may have dictated to a point how people treated Erik. At this time anyone with even a slight deformity was labeled a freak. One particularly cruel practice of the 1840s was not to give the disfigured a family name or surname. A family name gave a person identity and by not having one a person was considered inhuman and treated as such.  This practice branded Erik for life- he had no family name.

      Abandoned by his parents at age eight, Erik joined a circus to survive.  He traveled across Europe, going from fair to fair while being showcased as "the living corpse" to be gawked at and made fun of.  Bitterness and hatred of people began to take root in the child and grow.

     At fifteen, Erik escaped from the circus and roamed Europe until a fur merchant who had seen him at the Nizhi Novogord fair told of his astounding performance to those in Persia. When Erik’s reputation reached the palace, the shah ordered the daroga to bring Erik to Persia to entertain his favorite and very bored wife. Erik came and quickly rose to great power. Power, however, did not come without a price- the taking of human life. The daroga explained Erik’s willingness to kill as this: " His horrible, unique, and repulsive ugliness put him beyond the pale of humanity, and it had often been apparent to me that for this reason he no longer felt he had any obligations to the human race." Perhaps, but there is no record of Erik killing anyone before he came Persia or any implications that he might have. The little sultana he was commissioned to entertain was bloodthirsty and ruthless and ordered Erik to kill for her pleasure. Erik had little choice in the matter; if he refused the sultana it would mean his death.  No doubt Erik lived in fear for his life.

     With the help of the daroga, Erik fled Persia a few months later when the shah ordered Erik’s execution simply because he knew too much about the atrocities that were taking place under the shah’s orders. Erik went back to the country of his birth were he sought to live as normally as possible. According the daroga Erik, "tired of his adventurous, formidable, and monstrous life, wanted to become someone ‘like everyone else’. He became a contractor who built ordinary houses with ordinary bricks. He successfully bid on a contract for certain work on the foundations of the [Paris] Opera House. When he found himself in the cellars of the vast theatre, his artistic, whimsical, and magical nature came to the fore. He was still as ugly as ever and he dreamed of creating for himself a home unknown to the rest of the world, a home that would hide him forever from human eyes."  

     Erik worked as a simple mason under the direction of master architect Charles Gainer and, as in Persia, climbed the ranks of power and was put in charge in of the building of the Opera’s basement where he had free reign to do as he pleased. His brilliance flourished as he created an ingenious system of trapdoors and secret passageways that would allow him to move freely about the Opera House without being seen. The pillar that separated Box 5- his box- from the stage was hollow and large enough for two men to stand inside while appearing to be solid marble. Within the masterful carvings was a lever that allowed Erik to leave gifts for the box keeper, Madame Giry who happily helped the "Opera Ghost" because he had shown such kindness to her ballerina daughter.  In the managers’ office were trapdoors that allowed him to take his "allowance" from Moncharmin and Firmin while they were in the room.

     Erik’s gift for this sort of thing was not new. In Persia he had been called "the lover of trapdoors" for it was he who created the Mazenderan Palace. "He had changed it from a perfectly honest building into a house of the devil where no one could say a thing without having it overheard or reported by an echo. How many stormy family conflicts and bloody tragedies had the monster left behind him with his trapdoors! Not to mention that in a palace he had ‘rearranged’ you could never know exactly where you were."

     His most amazing and deadly invention was called the torture chamber. It was a small hexagonal room covered from floor to ceiling in mirrors. The corner mirrors were segmented and attached to drums that could be rotated. In one corner was an iron jungle tree for hangings. Bright lights and audio of jungle noises made victims believe that they were in an African jungle. The heat of the light, intensified by the mirrors, caused hallucinations of crawling through the desert. There was one way out of the torture chamber. The daroga had watched the box in use in Persia and testified: "When someone had ’had enough’ he was always allowed to end his suffering with a Punjab lasso that was left at his disposal under the iron tree."

     Erik’s genius flooded every aspect of his life. He mastered everything he put his hand to. Even the daroga had to conceded Erik’s brilliance and he feared him because of it. "I myself," the daroga stated, " found it hard to accept the prospect of fighting against a man who was visible only when he wanted to be and saw everything around him when everything was dark to others; a man whose strange knowledge, cunning, imagination, and skill enabled him to make use of all natural forces and combine them to produce illusions of sight and hearing that could lead his opponent to their doom." Erik was also a master ventriloquist; the daroga called him the worlds greatest.

      Of all the things he was and could be Erik only wanted to be treated like a person. When he was forced to go out into the city to get provisions he wore a different kind of mask to try to make himself look somewhat human. "He wore a paper-mache nose with a mustache attached to it to hide his hideous nose-hole. Though this did not entirely take away his macabre appearance, since people watched him pass and then said such things as ‘He looks like death warmed over’; it at least made him almost- and I stress the word almost- bearable to see."

     It seemed as though nothing could make a person forget Erik’s ugliness save one thing. "Music has the power to abolish everything in the outside world except its sounds, which go straight to the heart."  Erik possessed an amazing voice. His speaking voice was soft, captivating, very beautiful and yet masculine. But those who were allowed to hear him sing were at a loss to describe what they heard. "It was a voice that united all extremes at once in a single surge of inspiration." Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagney, had never heard "anything so amply and heroically sweet, so victoriously insidious, so delicate in strength, so strong in delicacy, so irresistibly triumphant."  

     Erik’s musical gifting filtered into other aspects of the art. He could play any instrument he tried- the organ being the one that was his greatest comfort. The daroga once heard Erik play a requiem mass and said it was "more like a mass for the damned. There, deep underground, it evoked demons dancing in an infernal circle."  Christine described his life’s work of twenty years, Don Juan Triumphant, as "one magnificent sob".

     Music and Don Juan Triumphant were Erik’s refuge from the coldness of the world and his internal pain. Of his music he said, "I began that work twenty years ago. When it’s finished I’ll take it with me into that coffin and I won’t wake up." The coffin to which Erik referred was in his bedroom. He slept in it every night- not for the morbid, vampirish reason one might think, but because he felt that the only bedding a "living corpse" was worthy of was a coffin.

     All his life Erik was lonely for a companion, one who could see beyond his physical look. Even the daroga heartlessly called him a monster instead of using his name. Madame Giry knew him only as the Opera Ghost, something to be revered and feared. When he fell in love with eighteen-year-old Christine Daae, he felt that trickery was the only way to win her over. He disguised himself as the Angel of Music who was said to visit all great composers and performers with his divine voice. Erik gave Christine vocal lessons and transformed her from a chorus girl into a diva of the Opera House, while remaining hidden from her sight.  He became obsessed with her and would stop at nothing to provide her with everything she could want. Christine fell in love with her Angel’s voice and Erik deceived himself into believing that she was truly in love with him. But when Christine learned of his true identity and saw the face that had sentenced him to a life in the Opera’s basement, she thought of him as a hideous monster. Desperate to keep her with him even if it was against her will, Erik found that fear was the only way to maintain his power over her. That fear caused Christine to come back to him again and again, but that didn’t bring Erik contentment; he didn’t want her to fear him. He pleaded with her on several occasions to look beyond his mask. "I can’t go on living like this, underground, in a hole, like a mole! Don Juan Triumphant is finished and now I want to live like everyone else. I want to have a wife like everyone else and go out walking with her on Sundays… I’m not really a bad man. Love me and you’ll see. To be good all I ever needed was to be loved."  All he needed was love- love that he never had. Erik didn’t even know God’s love. He knew of God only as a cold deity who would not permit such an ugly man into heaven.

     Erik did, however, truly love Christine. Christine’s suitor Raoul stumbled into a replica of the torture chamber in Persia. Presented with an opportunity to be rid of his rival, Erik nearly took it, but when Christine agreed to marry him, Erik released Raoul and Christine as well. On his final visit to the daroga, Erik told him why he let them both go: "I kissed her on the forehead and she didn’t move away from my lips… Christine came to me with her big blue eyes wide open and swore to me on her eternal salvation that she consented to be my living wife!  Till then, in the depths of her eyes, I’d only seen her as my dead wife; this was the first time I’d ever seen her as my living wife. She was waiting for me. And… and I… kissed her! I kissed her, I! And she didn’t die! Oh, daroga, it’s so good to kiss someone! You can’t know how I felt, but I…I… my mother, my poor, miserable mother would never let me kiss her. She would throw my mask to me and run away. And no woman… ever… Oh, I…I was so happy…so happy that I cried… and so was she… the angel cried!

     Oh, daroga, I felt her tears dropping onto my forehead- my forehead! They were warm, they were sweet, they flowed everywhere under my mask. Her tears! They mingled with my own tears in my eyes, they even flowed into my mouth… Listen, daroga, listen to what I did… I took off my mask to keep from losing any of her tears and she didn’t run away ! She didn’t die! She stayed alive, crying over  me… with me… We cried together. God in heaven, you gave me all the happiness in the world!"

        What occurred was such a simple thing and it was all it took to change a man’s life. Erik then gave Christine a gold wedding band and told her it was a wedding gift from him to her and Raoul. There’s a saying that "if you truly love someone then you’ll let them go".  How many people are unwilling to do the very thing Erik did? How many would  instead try to keep the one they "loved" chained to himself. Erik released Christine completely. He only asked that she would come back after he died to bury him.                                                                                              

 Through  all of his shortcomings and treacherous deeds, Erik was a lost soul in need of love and guidance- the things that so many take for granted. Gaston Leroux said it best: "Poor, unhappy Erik! Shall we pity him? Shall we curse him? He only asked to be ’someone’ like everyone else. But he was too ugly! And he had to hide his genius or use it to play tricks with, when, with and ordinary face, he would have been the most distinguished of mankind! He had a heart that could have held the empire of the world; and in the end he had to content himself with a cellar. Surely we pity the Opera Ghost."

 Despite possessing attributes considered abominable to man, the Phantom of the Opera was not a monster.


Hart, Charles and Stilgoe, Richard. The Phantom of the Opera: The Complete Libretto. The Really Useful Group P.L.C. 1986

Leroux, Gaston. The Phantom of the Opera. New York, New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc, 1998. Originally published in Paris in 1910 under Le Fantome de l’Opera.

Madame de Waele. Il Fantome. Pans 1993. (accessed May 6, 2002)
Perry, George. The Complete Phantom of the Opera. New York, New York