Watchmen

Watchmen

by

Alan Moore

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Current Battle Ends on 2/28/2021
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Summary
Analysis
While Jon attends Edward Blake’s funeral, Laurie visits her mother in a retirement home in California. Laurie and her mother, Sally Jupiter, are terse with each other. Sally seems saddened by Blake’s death, which makes Laurie angry and confused because of what he did to her. Sally claims that one must let go of the past; after so many years, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal anymore. With Blake gone, Sally notes that there are only three of the original Minutemen left. Laurie is unconvinced, especially after what Jon told her that Blake did during the Vietnam War. Sally proudly shows Laurie a pornographic comic of herself that an old fan recently sent her. Laurie thinks it’s disgusting, but Sally finds it flattering, and states that the older she gets, the better her opinion of the past becomes.
Sally’s enjoyment of a pornographic comic of herself indicates that she misses her former role as an American sex symbol and the attention it brought her, even though men sexually objectified her. In a similar vein, Sally minimizes Blake’s attempted rape of her and idealizes the past, suggesting that she, like Hollis and Daniel, misses their hero adventures. Laurie’s reference to what Jon told her that Blake did during the war suggests that his grotesque behavior went beyond his attempted rape of Sally.
Themes
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Identity and Empowerment Theme Icon
Sally flashes back to a publicity photo session with the Minutemen, decades before. After the group leaves, Sally stays behind to change clothes. Edward Blake, dressed as the Comedian, appears and tells her that, in her skimpy costume, she’s practically asking for sex. Sally tries to push him off, but Blake punches and kicks her hard and tries to rape her, pinning her on the ground. Sally pleads with him to stop. A hero in a black hood with a noose around his neck, Hooded Justice, sees them and beats Blake up, threatening to break his neck. As Blake slinks away, Hooded Justice tells Sally, “For God’s sake, cover yourself.” In the present, Laurie is still disgusted by the porn comic of Sally. Sally counters that at least the government doesn’t keep her around just to have sex with “the H-Bomb.”
Sally’s recollection of Blake’s attempted rape confirms that he was a violent, predatory person, regardless of how Sally remembers him in the present. The Comedian justifies his attempt to rape Sally with the fact that she wears a skimpy costume, suggesting that her identity as a sex symbol (wrongly) encourages him to sexually objectify her. Even Hooded Justice, after rescuing Sally, spitefully tells her to cover herself, suggesting that he blames Sally’s sexual presence, rather than the Comedian’s lack of self-control. Sally’s charge that the government only keeps Laurie around to sexually satisfy “the H-Bomb,” meaning Jon, suggests that Laurie is just as objectified, though in a different way.
Themes
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Adrian Veidt stands at Edward Blake’s funeral. He flashes back to decades before, when Captain Metropolis holds a meeting to try to organize the current heroes into the Crimebusters, a follow-up to the Minutemen who disbanded in 1949. Captain Metropolis displays a map of the U.S. with various problems labeled, such as “drugs,” “promiscuity,” and “anti-war demos.” Veidt, dressed in his own costume, supports Captain Metropolis’s idea, but the Comedian says it’s all a waste of time, just old men who want to dress up and fight bad guys again to feel important. The Comedian states that once “the nukes” start flying, there’ll be nothing left to protect. To make his point, he takes a lighter and sets fire to the map. As the others disperse, Captain Metropolis exclaims that someone still has to “save the world.”
The Comedian’s critique of Captain Metropolis’s motivations further suggests that the masked vigilantes do not undertake their work to help society so much as to help themselves—in this case to feel important and relevant, even in old age. The map’s labels list “drugs,” “promiscuity,” and “anti-war demos” as evils plaguing America, suggesting that Captain Metropolis, and perhaps the heroes altogether, want to preserve a conservative, patriotic, right-leaning vision of America, rather than allow left-leaning criticism of the government or sexual liberation.
Themes
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Moralist vs. Utilitarian Ethics Theme Icon
Identity and Empowerment Theme Icon
American Corruption and Patriotism Theme Icon
Jon stands at Blake’s funeral and recalls the day that he and Blake were waiting to leave Vietnam, having won the Vietnam War. Jon thinks all the violence must have some significance in the end, but Blake thinks that all of life is one sick “joke,” and he just plays along with it. He hates Vietnam and he’s ready to leave. A pregnant Vietnamese woman arrives and tells Blake that she carries his child, so he must provide for them. When Blake tells her he’s just going to abandon her, she hits him with a glass bottle, cutting his face. Blake shoots her in the head. Jon tells him he should not have done that, but Blake points out that Jon didn’t even try to stop him.
Blake’s feeling that life is just a “joke” that he plays along with suggests that he is a nihilistic figure—he sees no meaning to the world or human endeavors, but simply makes his way through it as he pleases. His killing of his Vietnamese mistress reiterates this nihilistic view of the world. Although he fights for the American government, Blake seems beholden to no moral code—he is utterly and carelessly immoral. This not only condemns the American government for heralding such person as a patriot, but also critiques the idea of a “pure” hero in general.
Themes
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Related Quotes
Get the entire Watchmen LitChart as a printable PDF.
Watchmen PDF
Daniel Dreiberg stands at Blake’s funeral. He recalls a day when he and Blake, in their vigilante costumes, tried to disperse a crowd of protesters. The police are on strike until the vigilantes get off the streets. Daniel pilots their floating airship while Blake gleefully shoots rubber bullets and tear gas canisters into the crowd. A protester calls Blake “a pig [and a] rapist.” Blake insists that the vigilantes are “society’s only protection,” but Daniel questions who it is they’re protecting society from. On the walls, people have spray painted, “Who watches the Watchmen?” As protesters disperse, Daniel wonders aloud, “What happened to the American dream?” Grinning and holding a shotgun, Blake tells him, “It came true. You’re lookin’ at it.” At the funeral, Daniel throws Blake’s smiley-face pin into his grave.
Daniel’s reservations about Blake’s cavalier and aggressive attitude suggest that, over time, the masked vigilantes go from being society’s presumed protectors to its potential oppressors. The slogan, “Who watches the Watchmen?” indicates that the general public shares this feeling and opposes any ruling power without accountability. This scene in particular critiques the vigilante aspect of every superhero story, since heroes always operate above the reach of law. Blake’s statement that they are the new American Dream suggests that power and government control of its people have subverted the old American ideals of fairness and equity.
Themes
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Rorschach follows an old man home from the funeral and attacks him in his home, pinning him to the ground. Rorschach identifies the man as Edgar Jacobi, also known as the villain Moloch, and demands to know if he had anything to do with the murder. Moloch claims he served his time and retired; he only went to the funeral because Blake visited him shortly before he died, drunk and terrified. Blake rambled about an island full of writers and scientists and artists, involved in some plot so horrific he couldn’t find the joke in it, then left. Rorschach believes Moloch and lets him stand. However, earlier, Rorschach found illegal non-prescription drugs in the man’s house. Moloch tells him they’re just placebo pills—he has terminal cancer. Rorschach says they’re still illegal and he’ll report the crime later. He leaves.
Moloch is the only typical villain named in the entire story, yet he never does anything in the story other than live quietly in his house, alone. By contrast, Rorschach, a presumed hero, breaks into the old man’s home and attacks him. This contrast between each character’s position as a hero or villain and their actual conduct toys with traditional, simple notions of good and evil, suggesting that the “good guys,” the supposed heroes, may actually be worse than those society sets up as villains.
Themes
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Rorschach’s journal. October 16th, 1985.” Rorschach sneers at pornographic billboards and prostitutes as he stalks the streets. He thinks about what Moloch told him and wonders if Dr. Manhattan is in danger somehow. Returning to Blake’s grave, Rorschach pays his respects alone, reflecting that heroes never die peacefully in bed. Either someone kills them, or they waste away, trying to hide from reality, but the future can’t be hidden from. Rorschach reflects that Blake understood the horror of the modern world and made himself a “parody” of it. Blake seems like the only person who truly understood the world, which was why he was so lonely.
Rorschach holds the Comedian up as the model hero, despite the fact that he was nihilistic and incredibly corrupt. This not only highlights the moral inconsistency in Rorschach’s ethical stance—he deemed Moloch a criminal for having non-prescription drugs, but sees the Comedian as a hero, despite being a murderer and attempted rapist—but also suggests that Rorschach values intense cynicism, even nihilism about the state of the world. 
Themes
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Rorschach remembers a joke where a man sees his doctor and tells him he’s depressed and the world is horrible. His doctor tells him to go see Pagliacci the clown; he’ll cheer right up. However, the depressed man is Pagliacci himself.
Rorschach’s brief joke reflects his view that the modern world is increasingly horrific, depressing, and lonely, which in turn fuels his own sense of nihilism, explored later in the story.
Themes
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Another excerpt from Hollis Mason’s Under the Hood: When Hollis decides he wants to be a caped crusader, he starts spending every evening training at the police gym, leading a friend to nickname him Nite Owl. He adopts the moniker as his hero name. By 1939, heroes have become a “fad,” so Nite Owl and others appear frequently in the newspapers. Within a year, there are eight of them. Looking back, Hollis finds their simple ideas about good and evil juvenile. He admits that their motivations for dressing up in costumes vary from person to person. Some are after money, for others it’s a sexual fetish, and some just want adventure. On their own, however, they were each doing some good. Hollis thinks that if they hadn’t formed the Minutemen, the heroes would’ve simply disappeared after a time and the world would be better off.
Once again, Hollis’s inference that many of the first-generation heroes dressed in costumes and ran around at night for adventure, fetish, or money suggests that heroes’ motivations are not so pure and good as the public may want to believe. Despite this harsh criticism, Hollis carefully points out that the heroes did some good amidst the harm they caused. This passage reflects Watchmen’s treatment of its characters as a whole, depicting them as neither simple heroes or villains, but rather as deeply flawed, dynamic individuals who struggle to know how they should act in a complex world.
Themes
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Hollis recalls that the Minutemen formed in 1939, when Captain Metropolis convinced Sally’s agent—and later, husband—Laurence Schexnayder to organize a publicity campaign. Given all of the heroes’ “extreme personalities,” problems are inevitable. Hollis thinks the worst of them is the Comedian, who tries to rape Sally in 1940. Schexnayder convinces her not press charges for the good of the group. In 1946, the public finds out that Silhouette, the Minutemen’s other female member, is a lesbian, and Schexnayder forces her out. In 1947, Sally quits being a hero to marry Schexnayder, and by 1949, there seem to be no interesting villains left to fight in America. They disband, but Hollis thinks, “The damage had already been done.”
The Minutemen’s choice to minimize the Comedian’s attempted rape while exiling Silhouette for her sexual orientation suggests that the heroes cultivate a culturally conservative public image, reflecting the leanings of the culture at the time. This fixation on image makes their conduct both misogynistic and homophobic, focused more on the idea of heroism than the actual morality of their individual members. Hollis’s framing of the issues suggests that he recognizes the hypocrisy of their conduct towards their two female members.
Themes
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American Corruption and Patriotism Theme Icon