15 Quotes About What’s Beneath the Masks We Wear

“The Phantom of the Opera,” by Universal (1925)

Editor's Note:

Who doesn’t love a good quote? For more like this, check out our quotations archive.

According to Bertolt Brecht, “Every time you name yourself, you name someone else.”Along with names, we put on a variety of faces for each other, usually discovering these masks don’t come off as easily as they go on. And for some reason, we still trust what others show us, even as we peer at them from behind a disguise.

Philosophers have much to say on the subject, and so do storytellers — particularly those who specialize in horror. The following set of quotes should be revealing this week, as the masks come out and everyone plays at being someone else. When everything appears to go back to “normal” the day after Halloween, try to remember that you’re still walking around in a world full of what Salman Rushdie described as “Masks beneath masks until suddenly the bare bloodless skull.”

Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera, 1910
“Know that it is a corpse who loves you and adores you and will never, never leave you!…Look, I am not laughing now, crying, crying for you, Christine, who have torn off my mask and who therefore can never leave me again!”

George Eliot, Middlemarch, 1871
“Doubtless some ancient Greek has observed that behind the big mask and the speaking-trumpet, there must always be our poor little eyes peeping as usual and our timorous lips more or less under anxious control.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust Part II, 1832
“Here too it’s masquerade, I find:
As everywhere, the dance of mind.
I grasped a lovely masked procession,
And caught things from a horror show…
I’d gladly settle for a false impression,
If it would last a little longer, though.”

Victoria Schwab, Vicious, 2013
“On the surface, Eli seemed perfectly normal, but now and then Victor would catch a crack, a sideways glance, a moment when his roommate’s face and his words, his look and his meaning, would not line up. Those fleeting slices fascinated Victor. It was like watching two people, one hiding in the other’s skin. And their skin was always too dry, on the verge of cracking and showing the color of the thing beneath.”

Oscar Wilde, The Critic As Artist, 1891
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he’ll tell you the truth”

Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth, 1990
“What are other women really thinking, feeling, experiencing, when they slip away from the gaze and culture of men?”

Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Suffering of the World, 1850
“However much the plays and the masks on the world’s stage may change it is always the same actors who appear. We sit together and talk and grow excited, and our eyes glitter and our voices grow shriller: just so did others sit and talk a thousand years ago: it was the same thing, and it was the same people: and it will be just so a thousand years hence. The contrivance which prevents us from perceiving this is time.”

John Dryden, The Indian Emperour, 1665
“Boldness is a mask for fear, however great.”

Shel Silverstein, Every Thing on It, 2011
“She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, 1850
“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”

Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, 1843
“Don’t you know that a midnight hour comes when everyone has to take off his mask? Do you think life always lets itself be trifled with? Do you think you can sneak off a little before midnight to escape this?”

Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White, 1860
“I say what other people only think, and when all the rest of the world is in a conspiracy to accept the mask for the true face, mine is the rash hand that tears off the plump pasteboard, and shows the bare bones beneath.”

Osho, Creativity: Unleashing the Forces Within, 2011
“The whole of history is the history of murderers. If you become a murderer, fame will be very easy. You can become a prime minister, you can become a president—but these are all masks. Behind them you will find very violent people, terribly violent people hiding, smiling. Those smiles are political, diplomatic. If the mask slips, you will always see Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Nadir Shah, Napoleon, Alexander, Hitler, hiding behind.”

Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine, 1957
“It is the privilege of old people to seem to know everything. But it’s an act and a mask, like every other act and mask. Between ourselves, we old ones wink at each other and smile, saying, ‘How do you like my mask, my act, my certainty? Isn’t life a play? Don’t I play it well?”

Edgar Allan Poe, “The Masque of the Red Death,” 1842
“In truth the masquerade license of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made.”