Psychoanalytical Theory in The Phantom of the Opera

The psychoanalytical theory, as described by Sigmund Freud, is the theory of how a individual’s personality is formed based on three fundamental structures of the mind: the id, superego and ego. The id is the body’s needs, wants, desires, or impulses, all of which are usually sexual or aggressive in nature. The superego is the individual’s morals; it’s the part that strives to act in a socially acceptable way by being conscious of “authority” and “law” (Parker,119). The ego is the common ground between these two and is, essentially, the individual’s conscious; their “Jiminy Cricket” so to say. When we apply these concepts to a piece of literary work then our interpretation of the text becomes based on the theories of Freud. We will apply the concepts listed above to the 2004 movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, and will also be referencing Robert Dale Parker’s third edition of How to Interpret Literature.

We will be focusing on the hidden meaning behind the conflict between Raoul and Erik, the Phantom. Throughout the play Erik masquerades as the “Angel of Music”, someone that Christine’s dying father promised would take care of her, and uses this persona to trick Christine into trusting and idolizing him. Raoul, a childhood friend of Christine’s, also appears which then sparks a fight between the two men as both fight for Christine’s affections. The conflict between Raoul and Erik, and Christine’s attraction to both of them, can be perceived as an example of Freud’s belief that ‘all daughters want to sleep with their fathers’, and vice versa. This is referred to as the manifest content and the latent content, or the signifier and the signified.

The manifest content, or how the content is perceived on the surface, is that both Erik and Raoul are competing with one another for Christine’s affection. But the latent content, or the hidden meaning behind this message- at least as perceived by Freud-, is that Erik represents the father figure who wishes to sleep with his daughter, Christine, and kill the competitor, Raoul. This desire to sleep with one’s child or parent of the opposite sex is a deep and primal desire that Freud believed stemmed from the id part of the mind; this is also the psychoanalytical theory that I believe we see in [t]he Phantom of the Opera. I say this because not only is there a very apparent age difference between Erik and Christine, one being in their thirties while the other is in their late teens, Erik also plays the role of a paternal figure throughout most of Christine’s life. Erik has been teaching and mentoring Christine ever since she came to the opera house, and is furious that Raoul has shown interest in her.

Erik then goes on to pretend to be Christine’s father, hiding inside her father’s sepulcher while singing “too long you’ve wandered in winter, far from my fathering gaze”, in hopes of tricking her into going with him. Between the vast age difference between Erik and Christine, Erik’s deception of Christine, and resentment towards Raoul, is what leads one to believe that Erik represents the father who wishes to have sex with his daughter. One could also argue that, despite the vast age difference between Christine and Erik, the Phantom’s unbridled obsession with her is because his own mother, who had “fear[ed]” and “loath[ed]” him due to the deformity of his face, had abandoned him at a very young age. Freud would view this obsession as “the return of the repressed”, something similar to neurosis (Parker, 119). Neurosis is defined as “a mild mental illness” caused by “symptoms of stress (depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior, hypochondria) [rather than by an] organic disease” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Freud believes that adult neurosis derives from the child having suffered early childhood traumas, which interfered and stalled the child’s psychic development. This stage of development could then resurface at a later point in the child’s life, as they were never able to truly outgrow that stage (Parker, 119).

Erik’s obsession with Christine may be because he was unable to completely grow out the Oedipal stage of development, according to Freud. Needless to say there are several literary theories and psychoanalytical theories that one could apply to [t]he Phantom of the Opera.

Trailer for 2004 The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera. Dir. Joel Schumacher. By Andrew Lloyd Webber. Perf. Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, and Patrick Wilson. Warner Brothers, 2004. DVD.

Parker, Robert Dale. How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. Third ed. New York: Oxford U Press, 2011. Print. Chapter 5.

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1 Comment

  1. Michael K. Johnson

     /  March 14, 2017

    That certainly seems to fit within the Freudian framework. Another way of looking at it might be to ask: whose dream is it? you’re reading it, I think, as Erik’s dream, as it is his desire that is being manifested? Or, maybe the dream belongs to the audience–our oedipal desires are placed on stage so that we can see how badly everything goes when we act on them. What if we read it instead as Christine’s dream?

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