Symbolism of Colors in The Phantom of the Opera
Our black-masked Phantom is a rather dark character, physically and mentally. Various colors are used in different ways throughout The Phantom of the Opera. What’s the symbolism behind them? The primary colors in various versions are black, white, pink, red and yellow.
People associate color with two things, natural and psychological reactions.
Naturally we associate black with night and darkness. Psychologically black is the evil color, the color of villains in old westerns, the color of Death and bad omens. Black expresses the unknown and the underworld where daylight does not reach… just like in Leroux and Erik’s lair. Black can represent bad luck or misfortune. Across the various versions, black is prevalent in Phantom. Leroux lets the reader know how steeped in death Erik is and at one point writes that people shouted at Erik: “There goes the Grim Reaper.” We see Erik in his black mask and funeral clothing depicting him as a shadowy figure and the anti-hero. Black, in conjunction with Erik, is a color to instill suspicion, fear and mistrust.
White is naturally seen as light. Psychologically it evokes purity, cleanliness and a soul passing to heaven. White becomes our hero-unscathed and perfect. In Webber’s 2004 movie version of Phantom, Raoul dashes off in a white shirt upon a white horse to save Christine– a blatant cliché if I ever saw one. In Leroux, Raoul wears the white domino, showing the reader not his heroism, but his innocence and sexual naivety. Erik and Christine are the ones wearing the manipulative and menacing black.
Red draws our mind toward many things, love, passion, blood, infatuation. Red symbolizes strong emotions such as excitement, strength, danger, and aggression. I love the use of infatuation here in terms of Leroux as Erik was driven by this emotion-not love. We lean toward passion as it relates to death in the original novel. Think of Erik as the Red Death and the red brocade fabric surrounding his coffin and the stave of the Dies Irae. These things connected to death make us discontent and passionate. In Webber we see it mostly in terms love. Think of all those red roses Erik leaves…
Yellow we naturally associate with heat, sun, etc. Psychologically, like with green, we lean toward gold and wealth. It can symbolize optimism and idealism verses dishonesty, cowardice, deceit, illness, and hazard. In Phantom, yellow can be seen as the ‘other’ color; the color that represents the outside world of Erik and one that makes him an outcast among nobles. His yellow skin is associated with oriental themes prevalent during Leroux’s time making Erik and outcast among a ‘normal’ population.
Pink… Webber shoved that down our throats! (The flowers in the dressing room, all of Christine’s pink dresses, etc) Pink is automatically associated with girls, though it was used for boys for centuries. Pink is the color of innocence, good health and good life. Think of the term ‘tickled pink’ and the hue brought to faces when we laugh or blush. It is symbolic of sexual innocence, something Webber wanted to drive forth in the theme of Christine v. Erik, as well as ‘pure love’.