Watchmen

Watchmen

by

Alan Moore

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Watchmen: Chapter 5: Fearful Symmetry Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the middle of the night, Moloch hears someone in his house downstairs. He grabs a pistol and creeps down the stairs. Rorschach appears and disarms him, rebuking him for having an unlicensed handgun. Rorschach says that it’s suspicious that both Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian, Moloch’s old enemies, have recently disappeared, especially since Moloch was on the list of people Dr. Manhattan gave cancer to. Rorschach shoves Moloch, a frail old man, into the refrigerator and closes him inside. When Moloch screams that he knows nothing, Rorschach decides he sounds convincing enough and lets him out. He tells Moloch to reach him through his “maildrop” if he hears anything new.
Once again, Rorschach, a presumed hero, batters a frail old man living quietly in his home just because he was once regarded as a villain (and again, the reader never finds out what Moloch actually did to be labeled a villain). Rorschach’s violence compared to Moloch’s passivity blurs the traditional lines between heroes and villains, cynically suggesting that those who see themselves as heroes—or even those whom society sees as heroes, like the Comedian—may actually be quite villainous in their conduct.
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Rorschach leaves, deciding that Moloch is only a pawn in someone else’s plan to discredit Dr. Manhattan and kill the Comedian. Down the street, two detectives investigate a murder-suicide. A father, convinced nuclear war is upon them, stabbed both his children to death and then slit his own throat in front of their mother. On the street corner, the news vendor talks with a man about where to escape to if World War III begins, though it doesn’t seem possible to escape at all. In the next issue of the pirate comic, the survivor determines he must build a raft and sail home before the pirates get there. The island’s trees do not look buoyant enough, so he builds a wooden deck, but straps the dead corpses he’s just buried to the underside, since they’re bloated with gas like pontoons. He sets sail and, starving, catches and eats a live seagull.
The father’s grotesque murder-suicide and the news vendor’s feeling that no one can hide from World War III suggests that the sense of impending doom is fraying people’s nerves, pulling society slowly apart. Meanwhile, the pirate comic’s hero commits grotesque actions to survive and try to save his family, which foreshadows both Rorschach’s own violent behavior in trying to uncover a criminal conspiracy, and, especially, the disturbing lengths that Adrian Veidt will go to to prevent World War III and nuclear apocalypse.
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Laurie meets with Daniel at a café. Now that Jon is gone and she can’t live at the military facility, she has nowhere to stay. Daniel tells her she can live with him.
Though brief, this event marks the true beginning of Laurie and Daniel’s relationship together and finalizes her break-up with Jon.
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Rorschach’s journal. October 21st, 1985.” Rorschach wakes to shouting outside. He folds his mask and slips it in his jacket. As he wanders outside, dressed as a normal person, he makes note of every small crime, like vandalism, and every suspicious thing he sees, like Laurie and Daniel Dreiberg leaving a café together, and makes mental notes to investigate them later. Rorschach sits in a diner, buys coffee, and watches his “maildrop,” which is a public trashcan across the street. On the street corner, the news vendor theorizes that weapons manufacturers are about to make a fortune. In the pirate comic, the survivor contemplates his morality and stares down at the dead corpses keeping him afloat.
Rorschach’s mental notes on every little crime suggest that he obsesses over order and justice. However, Rorschach’s view of crime and punishment, good and evil, is notably angled towards small offenses. He wants to punish vandals, illicit lovers, or poor people selling drugs, yet he never questions what made those people do those things. That is, he lacks any understanding of the environment that causes people to commit those “crimes,” and so he remains blind to much broader questions of morality and who, exactly, should be punished for society’s ills. Additionally, the survivor’s corpse raft symbolizes how even someone who feels like a hero may be held aloft by other people’s deaths.
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Elsewhere, Adrian Veidt and his assistant walk to a meeting with a toy manufacturer. A man with a gun approaches them and shoots, missing Veidt but killing his assistant. Veidt beats the assassin up and demands to know who sent him. He reaches his fingers into the man’s mouth, shouting that he’s trying to bite down on a poison capsule. The assassin dies by poison. Veidt tells an onlooker to call the toy manufacturer and cancel their line of Ozymandias toys, because Ozymandias doesn’t have any enemies left to fight.
Veidt’s feeling that he no longer has any traditional enemies to fight illuminates his transition from fighting common criminals to fighting systemic issues (which he later describes in more detail). Veidt’s retirement from his life as Ozymandias appears directly influenced by the feeling that he no longer needs to fight individuals—the world has much greater problems, which require greater solutions than an individual crimefighter. This perspective is directly opposed to Rorschach’s, who focuses on minor individual crimes while ignoring systemic issues.
Themes
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On the street corner, the news vendor says that today’s headlines are horrific. A father butchered his children and someone tried to kill Adrian Veidt, the living “saint.” The news vendor thinks that if people are trying to kill someone as good as Veidt, no one stands a chance of surviving. He surmises that it’s always the things one doesn’t see that kill them. In the pirate comic, the survivor dozes on his corpse raft and thinks about how regular people “exist upon the whim of murderers.” He hears a distant splash and wonders if it could be a rescue boat. Instead, he sees two shark fins approaching.
The news vendor says that Veidt is publicly revered as a “saint,” which makes the eventual revelation that he engineers a massive attack all the more surprising. Once again, the contrast between Veidt’s public persona and his actions suggests that society’s heroes are often not what society believes them to be, and may be acting out of ulterior motives, hiding personal flaws, or covertly using methods that seem unconscionable.
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Rorschach’s journal. October 21st, 1985.” Veidt’s attempted murder confirms Rorschach’s suspicions about a “mask-killer” on the loose. He finds a note in his “maildrop” from Moloch claiming that he has “urgent information” and needs to see Rorschach that night. Rorschach fetches his costume and mask from an alleyway and puts them on, feeling that he becomes his true self in his ensemble, “free from fear or weakness or lust.” With three hours before his meeting with Moloch, Rorschach finds a rapist and mugger to hunt. In Daniel’s house, Laurie moves in and settles in a spare room. Daniel looks longingly at her before wishing her a good night.
Rorschach’s feeling that he becomes his trues self in his costume reveals that his vigilante identity is now his primary identity. Additionally, he feels “free from fear or weakness or lust” as Rorschach, suggesting that his constructed identity helps him to cope with life in the chaotic world, as well as the aspects of himself that he sees as immoral or despicable. That is, his identity becomes a defense mechanism, a way to hide from himself and the world around him—even at the expense of losing his true identity and emotional life.
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Related Quotes
In the pirate comic, the survivor endures a shark attack. The biggest shark is yellow and strange. It entangles itself in the raft. The survivor grabs a splintered log and stabs it through one of the shark’s eyes. The shark swims, dragging the raft across the sea with it, until it dies, exhausted. Other sharks eat the human corpses, while the survivor sits on the yellow shark’s floating corpse and uses it, tangled in rope and wood, as his new raft. He takes bites out of the shark and laughs at the irony.
The survivor’s descent into madness and grotesque behavior—riding on a corpse raft, eating raw meat—while trying to save his family parallels how any of the masked vigilantes may descend into crazy, even reprehensible behavior while pursuing a noble goal. This is particularly evident in Rorschach’s case, since his desire for order and justice lead him to be violent.
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On the street corner, the news vendor sells a copy of Hustler to a woman named Joey and they talk about Russia invading the Middle East. She asks him to hang a poster that says, “Gay Women Against Rape,” on his newsstand and says it is her contribution to the world. In a police office, two detectives receive a tip over the phone—someone knows where they can find “raw shark.” When the detectives realize what the caller means, they grab their jackets and rush out of the office.
“Raw shark” is obviously a misconstrued version of the name “Rorschach,” and the detectives’ quick rush out of the office suggests that he is a highly valued police target. Ironically, although Rorschach idealizes order and justice, he works in opposition to the police, whom society tasks with maintaining order and justice.
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At the appointed time, Rorschach goes back to Moloch’s house to visit him. He finds Moloch sitting upright in a chair in the dark, a bullet hole in his forehead. Outside, the police tell Rorschach that he’s trapped and should surrender. Rorschach curses himself for walking into a trap. As the police break in, Rorschach uses an aerosol can to set fire to the house—and one of the officers—and runs upstairs. When they chase him, he shoots another in the chest with his grappling gun, impaling him. Trapped by fire and policemen, Rorschach jumps through an upper story window and crashes onto the street. Police surround him, beat him, and tear his mask off—he’s the doomsayer who usually holds “The End is Nigh” sign. They drag him away, and someone says, “Everything balances.”
Once again, Rorschach attacks police and even potentially kills one by shooting him in the chest, suggesting that in spite of all his strict moralism, he does not hold himself to that same high standard—his ideas of good and evil are flexible, even though he believes them to be rigid. The revelation that Rorschach is the same doomsayer who apparently believes the end of the world is coming suggests that he believes in strict moralism even when the entire social order is about to crumble. This indicates that Rorschach sees morality, justice, and order, as ultimate ideals—the meaning of life, even—rather than just qualities which allow society to run smoothly and peacefully.
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An excerpt from “Treasure Island Treasury of Comics”: After hero comics fall out of favor in the 1950s, comics about pirates become the medium’s main attraction. The excerpt gives a summary of Max Shea’s work as the author of the wildly popular pirate comic, “Tales of the Black Freighter.” It mentions that Shea’s legacy suddenly ends when he mysteriously disappears from his home. Although an investigation is underway, nobody knows where he is.
Once again, although the chapter-ending excerpts are secondary to the main story, they fill in backstory for minor characters. In this case, Max Shea’s mysterious disappearance foreshadows his small role in the story several chapters later. The decline of hero comics also suggests that, in a world where masked vigilantes actually exist, the genre feels too close to reality and loses its exotic appeal.
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