Webster’s Dictionary defines “vendetta” either as “a feud between two families, leading to long-lasting animosity and retaliatory acts of revenge” or as “a series of acts attempting to injure another.” In V for Vendetta, Alan Moore moves back and forth between these two definitions of the word: one personal and vengeful, the other more vague and abstract in its motives. In essence, Moore leads us to ask, “Is V motivated by revenge, or by a more abstract, philosophical objection to the Norsefire government?”
At times, V for Vendetta appears to be the story of V’s personal revenge. Eric Finch and his assistant, Dominic Stone, hypothesize that V’s attacks are motivated by a desire for vengeance. It’s possible, Finch discovers, that V was a patient in Larkhill Camp, where he was starved, tortured, and given dangerous drugs. V could then be trying to “spit back” his pain and suffering on the people who hurt him: Lewis Prothero, his former prison guard, Anthony Lilliman, his hypocritical chaplain, and other. But at the same time, Finch realizes, V could also just be pretending to seek revenge: perhaps he wasn’t a patient at Larkhill at all, and is only using this backstory as a smokescreen for a more ambitious, far-reaching assault on the Norsefire government.
By the end of V for Vendetta, we still don’t know what motivates V. It’s possible that he was a patient at Larkhill Camp, and wants to avenge his mistreatment—this is the version of events we’re told in Delia Surridge’s diary. It’s also entirely possible that V is an English citizen who has conspired to destroy Norsefire for more moral or philosophical reasons. (Eric Finch brings up the possibility that Delia’s diary was edited or forged by V himself.)
Even if Moore doesn’t explain exactly what motivates V, he offers some important clues near the end of his graphic novel about how to interpret revenge and vendetta. After Eric Finch kills V, Evey Hammond wonders whether or not she should remove V’s mask and look at his face. In the end, Evey decides to leave V’s individual identity a secret, and instead to celebrate V’s symbolic identity. With this in mind, she takes another copy of V’s mask and wears it as her own, along with V’s usual cloak and hat. In the final chapter of V for Vendetta, we see Evey, dressed as V, welcoming a naïve young man to the Shadow Gallery—in essence, playing the same role for this man that V once played for her.
The suggestion in these final chapters is that while V may have been motivated by a personal desire for revenge (but we don’t know who he is, and thus can’t know for certain), his personal motives ultimately don’t matter. Evey chooses to leave V’s mask in place because she recognizes that V’s abstract, universal reasons for attacking Norsefire—his belief in human freedom, anarchy, and dialectical materialism—are more important to her and to V’s followers. After Evey dons V’s mask, we realize that V himself may have been a former student of the Shadow Gallery, not a prisoner at Larkhill. To be V, the graphic novel suggests, is to put aside one’s personal motives altogether and embody the ideals of anarchy.
In the end, Moore’s meditations on revenge and vendetta are crucial to V for Vendetta because they define the difference between the graphic novel’s protagonists—Evey Hammond and V—and its antagonists—the government officials of Norsefire, led by the Leader, Adam Susan. While the officials of Norsefire use their power and authority to achieve their own interests and satisfy their selfish desires (lust, ambition, sadism, etc.), Evey and V use their power and training to deny their own interests, and indeed, their own personalities. To carry out a vendetta against the government is to set aside oneself and embrace the universal ideal of freedom.
Vendettas, Revenge, and the Personal ThemeTracker
Vendettas, Revenge, and the Personal Quotes in V for Vendetta
Remember, remember the fifth of November, the Gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the Gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.
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?
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.
“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.”