V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta

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Themes and Colors
Freedom and Anarchy Theme Icon
Bigotry Theme Icon
The Power of Symbols Theme Icon
Vendettas, Revenge, and the Personal Theme Icon
Fatherhood, Mentorship, and the State Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in V for Vendetta, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Power of Symbols Theme Icon

From the first chapter of V for Vendetta, Alan Moore shows us the enormous power that symbols have over a society. V, the protagonist of the graphic novel, wears a Guy Fawkes mask, and draws “V” symbols almost wherever he goes. After saving Evey Hammond from a group of murderers, V takes her to watch as he blows up the Houses of Parliament, a centuries-old symbol of the strength and power of the English government. In a sense, V for Vendetta is about a fight between two sets of symbols: the austere, Fascist symbols of the Norsefire government, and the anarchic, more anonymous symbols of V. It’s worth understanding what the stakes of this conflict are.

To begin with, Moore makes it clear that symbols are highly powerful weapons—indeed, the Norsefire government rules England by cleverly manipulating symbols. One important symbol in the Norsefire regime is the Voice of Fate. Every evening, Lewis Prothero reads news determined by the Fate Computer. His voice is so impressive, and its presence so pervasive, that people think the voice is literally that of the Fate Computer. The Voice of Fate comes to symbolize the strength and omnipresence of the Norsefire government.

One reason that symbols like the Voice of Fate are so powerful is that they’re superhuman. As V explains, a single human being can express his views however he likes, but he’ll always be limited by his humanity: the everyday-ness of his face, the inevitability of his death, etc. A symbol, in contrast, isn’t directly tied to one human being. In the case of the Voice of Fate, for instance, the Norsefire government actively tries to ensure that people don’t realize that the voice is, in fact, tied to one human being. The less “human” a symbol is, the more mysterious and powerful it becomes.

In order to undermine the Norsefire government, V attacks its symbols—either replacing them with his own, or using them against their creators. After blowing up Parliament, V kidnaps Prothero and drives him insane, leaving the Voice of Fate frail, tremulous, and conspicuously human. People begin to realize that the Voice of Fate—and thus the Norsefire government—is only human, and thus flawed. V’s own symbols become increasingly popular: we see children and others copying his “V” symbol in graffiti-form. The beauty of the “V” symbol, like the power of V’s Guy Fawkes mask, lies in its anonymity. Anyone can carve a “V” onto a wall, meaning that every citizen of England is a potential threat to the authority of the Norsefire government. V uses symbols—simple, reproducible, and anonymous—to build up his cause’s power and influence and, implicitly, to undermine the power and influence of the government.

At the end of V for Vendetta, we’re given a particularly clear illustration of the superhuman power of symbols. Eric Finch shoots V, killing him, but before he dies, V whispers, “You can’t kill an idea. Ideas are bulletproof.” The same might as well be said for symbols: although V dies, he passes on his home, his education, and, crucially, his set of symbols—the mask, the cloak, the “V”—to his loyal student, Evey Hammond. Evey, now wearing V’s old mask, introduces herself to London as V. By himself, V—and, for that matter, Evey—is only human. Yet V’s symbols are indestructible: passed from one person to the next, they take on a life of their own. In all, V for Vendetta has been a battle between two sets of symbols: Norsefire’s and V’s. In the end, the more anonymous, reproducible set of symbols wins.

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The Power of Symbols Quotes in V for Vendetta

Below you will find the important quotes in V for Vendetta related to the theme of The Power of Symbols.
Book 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

Remember, remember the fifth of November, the Gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the Gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.

Related Characters: V (speaker)
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

Here V, the masked vigilante who's vowed to topple the Fascist government headed by Adam Susan, recites a poem about the "Gunpowder Treason," the infamous plot by Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament in the 1600s. (See Background Info.) As far as V is concerned, Guy Fawkes is a hero: a fellow vigilante who used his knowledge of explosives to attempt a sweeping revenge plot on a government he believed to be unjust.

The passage tells us a lot about V's twisted, whimsical approach to violence. V is talking about destroying enormous buildings and potentially killing innocent people--a crime belied by the innocent, sing-song nature of his poem. More importantly, V looks to Guy Fawkes for inspiration in his own vigilante acts, as even his mask is fashioned to look like Fawkes. V recognizes the importance of symbols and role models--just as he treats Fawkes as a hero, he hopes to inspire a new generation of anarchists to rise up against Susan and the Fascist party. By completing Fawkes's plot (i.e., blowing up Parliament 500 years later), V sends a powerful symbolic message: revolutionaries always win in the end, even if it takes them 500 years.


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Book 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

They eradicated some cultures more thoroughly than they did others. No Tamla and no Trojan. No Billie Holliday or Black Uhuru. Just his master’s voice every hour on the hour.

Related Characters: V (speaker), The Leader / Adam Susan , Lewis Prothero
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

V has taken Evey back to his secret lair, where he shows her his vast collection of old paintings, sculptures, books, and records. V explains that he's made a point of collecting cultural artifacts that Adam Susan's Norsefire government tried to destroy in previous decades. Susan sought to eliminate all "rival cultures"--anything that could compete with the dogma that the English are the greatest nation and the greatest race on the planet. Consequently, Norsefire destroyed the art and music of great African American artists like Billie Holliday.

V's explanation of Norsefire's crimes is one of the first signs of the extreme, racist nature of England in the future. Frightened for its own survival, English politicians rally their people around the hatred of "foreigners" and "aliens" of any kind--thus, black people, homosexuals, etc. are bullied, imprisoned, and often murdered for their supposed crimes. Susan's methods of control are typical of Fascist governments--like Hitler, he uses hatred and racism to unite his people against a common enemy.

Book 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

Her name is anarchy! And she has taught me more as a mistress than you ever did! She has taught me that justice is meaningless without freedom. She is honest. She makes no promises and breaks none.

Related Characters: V (speaker)
Related Symbols: Lady Justice
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, V holds a mock-conversation with the statue of Lady Justice that stands over the Old Bailey, a famous legal building in London. V accuses Lady Justice of serving an evil master--the Fascist government of England. V maintains that he serves a new master--not justice, but anarchy.

V's speech is important because it spells out his political convictions. Where Adam Susan, the dictator of England, believes that "justice" is all about control and domination (hence his decision to shut down free speech, imprison his opponents, etc.), V takes the opposite point of view. He thinks that the purpose of justice is to allow people to be free and happy; thus, the ideal state of society, he believes, is lack of any government whatsoever. ("Anarchy" literally means "without government.")

V's ideas about justice might seem just as counterintuitive and barbaric as Susan's--most people would probably argue that society needs a compromise between order and freedom. But Moore never once tells readers to agree with V--true to form, we're "free" to make up our own minds about how seriously we should take V's commitment to total anarchy.

Book 1, Chapter 11 Quotes

You see, there are two possible motives here. Not one. The first motive is revenge. He escapes from Larkhill and vows to get even with his tormentors. The Parliament bombing and the other stuff is just a smokescreen. The whole exercise was an elaborate, chilling vendetta. That’s the explanation that I find the most reassuring, funnily enough. Because that means he’s finished now. That means it’s over. The second motive is more sinister. Like I said, everyone who could have identified him is now dead. What if he’s just been clearing ground? What if he’s been planning something else?

Related Characters: Mr. Eric Finch (speaker), V , The Leader / Adam Susan
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

Eric Finch, the head of detective work in the Norsefire government, tries to understand why V, known to be a masked vigilante, is murdering former Norsefire party members who worked at Larkhill Prison (where V himself was probably kept and tortured) years ago. Finch isn't sure if V is killing these people because he's angry with them and wants revenge, or because he's preparing for something else and trying to eliminate people who have valuable information about him—or both.

It's important to note the frightened tone of Finch's quote. He's afraid of and even awed by V's actions, and this is exactly what V wants: he wants to strike fear and uncertainty into the hearts of his enemies. And yet Finch's questions are valid--we're not any more sure of why V is doing what he's doing than we are. There's a fine line between V's personal vendetta and his broader commitment to ideals like freedom and justice. By wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and concealing his own identity, V can effectively enact two vendettas at the same time: he can satisfy his own personal desire for revenge while also fighting for his beliefs.

Book 3, Prologue Quotes

Uncaring fate? It is said there is no question that can be formulated that you cannot answer. Tell me this, then: Am I loved?

Related Characters: The Leader / Adam Susan (speaker)
Related Symbols: Voice of Fate
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Adam Susan, the dictator of England, tries to communicate with the Fate Computer, the futuristic device that allows him to predict the weather, the economy, and other important aspects of the world. Susan--a control freak through and through--adores the Fate Computer because its control of reality is absolute: it predicts something, and then the prediction comes true, like clockwork.

Susan's unusual behavior in this scene is an early sign that he--and the government he leads--is cracking. In the past, Susan has seemed comfortable with his role as the dictator of the country. Now, we begin to see the truth: Susan is almost as miserable as the people he leads. (In the graphic novel, he's usually shown in dark, gloomy spaces that convey his sadness and loneliness.) Although Susan controls millions of people, there's not a single person who can love him as an individual. One could even say that Susan chooses to become a dictator because he's incapable of normal human love--his desire for control and power is Susan's approximation of interpersonal love.

In all, the passage makes the provocative that Susan, the "prison guard," is almost as much of a prisoner as his frightened, obedient subjects--he lives a miserable, lonely life.

Book 3, Chapter 4 Quotes

Because if I’m going to crack this case, and I am, I’m going to have to get right inside his head, to think the way he thinks, and that scares me.

Related Characters: Mr. Eric Finch (speaker), V
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

Eric Finch, the detective tasked with tracking down V, decides that the only way to catch V is to think like V. (This is one of the classic plot tropes of crime and serial killer stories--the detective discovers that he and his quarry eerily similar.) In order to simulate V's state of mind, Finch ingests a large quantity of LSD, a hallucinogenic drug that, he believes, promotes creativity and original thinking.

By taking LSD and thinking like V, Finch isn't just trying to solve his case. Finch is also trying to free himself from the constraints of his own society. Finch is secretly a good man who opposes the tyranny of Norsefire's regime. But just like everyone else, he's too frightened and cynical to attempt to oppose Norsefire, and he goes through life accepting injustice in his society. The fact that Finch subconsciously wants to be like V is a clear sign that he's fed up with being a pawn to Adam Susan and other Norsefire officials--he wants to escape the government's authority by first freeing his mind from fear.

Book 3, Chapter 7 Quotes

“Did you think to kill me? There’s no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill. There’s only an idea. Ideas are bulletproof.”

Related Characters: V (speaker), Mr. Eric Finch
Related Symbols: Guy Fawkes Mask, “V” symbol
Page Number: 236
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important scene, Eric Finch tracks down V and shoots him. V (secretly bleeding to death) tells Finch that nobody can kill him, because he's an idea, not a man.

V's statement isn't literally true, of course, but it's very powerful (and one of the most famous quotes from the work). V is a human being, but he's also much more. By wearing a cloak and a Guy Fawkes mask, V aims to erase his own personality and become a symbol. As a symbol, something without the flaws and complexities of a real human, V can inspire millions of other people with just his ideas, courage, and image.

Sure enough, a few chapters later, "V" is dead, but Evey has taken V's cloak and mask, effectively becoming the "new V." Ultimately, V isn't a person--it's a role, which can be played by many different people.

Book 3, Chapter 9 Quotes

Because you were so big, V, and what if you’re just nobody? Or even if you’re someone, you’ll be smaller, because of all the people that you could have been, but weren’t.

Related Characters: Evey Hammond (speaker), V
Related Symbols: Guy Fawkes Mask, “V” symbol
Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Evey--witnessing V's death--makes the difficult decision to keep V's face and identity concealed. Instead of removing his mask, she keeps the mask on.

Evey is still curious about V's true identity, but ultimately, she recognizes that V's individual identity is less important than the "idea" of V--in other words, the idea of a powerful, resourceful opponent of the Norsefire government, someone who's immune to pain and danger. In short, Evey recognizes that V is more powerful as an idea, capable of inspiring other people, than he is as an ordinary man (or woman).

Evey's decision to keep V's mask on also reflects the fact that she's free of her desire to be controlled and to have a father-figure. Evey has craved a strong, masculine presence in her life, but now, she has no further need for such a presence. Evey has learned how to take care of herself--she doesn't even need V anymore. By the same token, Evey has no more need for Adam Susan's government--by donning V's spare mask, she resumes V's mission to destroy the government forever.