“From the notes of Dr. Malcolm Long. October 25th, 1985”: Dr. Long, a psychiatrist, holds his first interview with Walter Kovacs, also known as Rorschach. Kovacs is difficult to work with, but this case could make Long famous if he succeeds. Long shows Kovacs a series of Rorschach blot tests and asks him what he sees. Rorschach looks at one, sees a dog with its skull split open, but tells Long that he sees a “pretty butterfly.”
Long’s desire to become famous by treating Walter Kovacs suggests that he is just as self-interested as those vigilantes who do hero work for financial gain or hubris, even though he’s supposed to be in a helping profession. This further suggests that such self-interest is not exclusive to masked vigilantes—it seems common to human beings.
Long states that Kovacs was born in 1940 to Sylvia Glick. His father is unknown. Everyone in the prison, cops and criminals alike, hates Rorschach. Long hands Kovacs another blot test. Kovacs looks at it and recalls seeing his mother having sex with a stranger when he is a boy. When the stranger sees the boy, he gets uncomfortable and leaves without paying. Sylvia screams at young Walter and beats him, telling him that she wishes she’d had an abortion. Kovacs tells Long that the ink blot looks like a bunch of flowers. Satisfied, Long tells Kovacs that there’s still hope for him, and leaves for the day.
Kovacs flatly lies to Malcolm Long, suppressing his own painful memories as they arise. This further hints that his vigilante identity as Rorschach helps Walter Kovacs hide from painful or confusing memories and try to establish order in the world around him, since his childhood appears to have been chaotic and abusive. Long’s easy satisfaction and belief that he can rehabilitate Kovacs suggests that he possesses his own hubristic belief in his ability to save people.
On Kovacs’s way back to his cell, all the other inmates shout that they’ll kill him soon. All the threats make Kovacs recall a time when two older boys trapped him in the street and called him a “whoreson.” Ten-year-old Walter grabs a lit cigarette from one of the boys’ mouths and jams it into his eye, partially blinding him. He jumps on the other boy and bites and rips at his face until adults pull him off.
The abuse and bullying Walter Kovacs suffers as a child suggests that his violent demeanor originates from his need to defend himself as a child. This makes Rorschach seem a tragic figure, despite his violence and unhinged behavior, rather than a purely predatory character.
Dr. Long writes notes in his study, late at night. After Walter attacked the boys, the government removed him from his mother and placed him in state custody. Away from Sylvia, Walter does well in school, though he’s quiet and odd. When he is 16, he learns that someone murdered his mother and responds, “Good.” Long’s wife Gloria comes into his study and entices him away to the bedroom.
Walter’s success in state custody suggests that, without the traumas of his childhood, he may have grown up to be a regular, successful adult. However, his simple response to his mother’s death suggests that he possesses deep-seated animosity towards her.
The next day, Dr. Long interviews Kovacs again. He calls him “Walter” and asks him to talk about Rorschach. Kovacs tells Long that he despises him for being “fat, wealthy” and believing that he knows what pain is, but he decides to tell Long about Rorschach anyway. When he is 16, Kovacs leaves the children’s home and works in a garment factory. He comes across a custom dress made of two white layers of material with a black liquid layer in between, so that black shapes flow around—“black and white. Moving. […] No gray.” The client, Kitty Genovese, rejected the dress, so Kovacs takes it home with him and learns to handle the material. Eventually, he stashes it away.
Walter’s criticism of Dr. Long insinuates that Long does not truly understand the nature of emotional pain or the depravity of human beings. Long’s naiveté echoes the naiveté of heroes like Captain Metropolis, who believe that fighting crime as is simple as stopping robbers, and that they can make society better just through hard work and courage. But this passage also highlights how Rorschach’s own views are similarly simplistic. The material, which becomes Rorschach’s mask, symbolizes his view of morality and ethics: everything is clearly divided into good and evil, and though those boundaries shift around, there is never any gray area; morality is black and white, without ambiguity or compromise.
Two years pass. One day, Kovacs reads in the newspaper that Kitty Genovese was raped, tortured, and murdered right in front of her apartment, within earshot of at least 40 people. No one did anything. Kovacs believes he understands what human beings truly are in that moment, so he takes out Kitty’s dress and makes himself a “face” he can finally bear to look at: his mask. In prison, Dr. Long tries to convince Kovacs that not all people are rotten. Kovacs tells Long that Long isn’t good, though he believes he is. He’s spending all this time with Kovacs for his own fame, not to actually make anyone better; he just wants to know “what makes [Kovacs] sick.” Kovacs promises Long he’ll “find out” soon. Long tries to push the encounter out of his mind, but he’s disturbed.
Kitty Genovese’s horrific death (which happened in real life) not only demonstrates humanity’s capacity for savage behavior, but her neighbors’ failure to do anything about it suggests that human beings are fundamentally selfish and passive creatures, lacking empathy for others. This forms Rorschach’s grim view of humanity, which echoes the Comedian’s nihilistic view as well. Kovacs’s comment about making a face he can bear to look at suggests that he possesses a large amount of self-contempt, which his identity as Rorschach also helps him to hide from.
Later, the deputy warden calls Long to tell him that Kovacs attacked an inmate in the cafeteria. The inmate was about to stab Kovacs, so Kovacs threw a pan of hot cooking grease into his face, giving the man “horrific” burns. Long finds himself thinking of the man as Rorschach, rather than Kovacs. Gloria finds Long in his study again. She tries to pull him away from work, but he’s too obsessed with Rorschach’s case. She leaves angrily, and Long realizes that Rorschach is drawing him into his own world.
Long’s urge to refer to Kovacs as Rorschach suggests that even other people consider Rorschach to be Kovacs’s primary identity. This suggests that, far more than any of the other vigilantes, Kovacs completely gives himself over to his constructed identity. Gloria’s anger at her husband suggests she does not want him to value his work more than he values her, but his response shows that he’s already being affected by Rorschach’s dark and troubling view of the world.
In the next meeting, Kovacs continues his story. In the beginning, he states he was just Kovacs in a costume, pretending to be Rorschach. He was too merciful towards criminals initially: he “let them live.” He remarks that all of his “friends” in costumes were soft like that. Kovacs commits no truly violent crimes before 1975. He works with Nite Owl in 1965, until Nite Owl eventually quits. The Comedian is the only one who stays active as a vigilante, who sees all of the horror of the world and keeps on fighting. Kovacs respects him for it. Kovacs states that men like them do their work because the state of the world “compel[s]” them to.
Kovacs idolizes the Comedian despite his blatantly immoral behavior, which suggests that despite Kovacs’s strict moralism, he values the capacity to see the world for the horrific place that it is even more. Kovacs’s claim that men like them are “compelled” to work as vigilantes suggests that anyone willing to see the world for what it truly is cannot help but take matters into their own hands. However, this claim also seems a way for Kovacs to avoid some amount of responsibility for his actions.
“From the notes of Dr. Malcolm Long. October 27th, 1985”: Kovacs says he felt like he had to become Rorschach, but he doesn’t identify what it was that compelled him. Long thinks that Rorschach is overreacting to events in his childhood. That evening, Gloria tries to make amends for the other night, and invites friends over for dinner tomorrow. Long falls asleep early.
Long’s inference that Kovacs overreacts to his traumatic childhood implies that he believes the world is not truly so horrible as Kovacs believes it to be, and his violent behavior and vigilante actions are thus not justified. Rather, Long thinks, they are the symptoms of some psychological fault. The novel doesn’t come to a clear conclusion on this point; it leaves it up to the reader to decide whether Rorschach is reacting rationally or irrationally to the world he’s experienced.
As Malcolm Long’s notes continue the next day, Kovacs reveals everything to Long. Long gives Kovacs the blot test from their first interview. This time, Kovacs tells him he sees a dead dog, whose skull he split in half. In 1975, a six-year-old girl gets kidnapped by a man who mistakenly thinks that she has a rich father. Kovacs decides to investigate it himself for “personal reasons.” He starts searching for information in bars, breaking fingers, and unnecessarily hospitalizes 14 people. He finally gets a clue, an address, and follows it to an unused dress shop. He enters and spots two German shepherds fighting over a bloody bone in the backyard.
Kovacs’s “personal reasons” for wanting to rescue the kidnapped girl suggest that his own abusive childhood makes him particularly sensitive to the mistreatment of children. For Kovacs, this sensitivity represents a rare level of empathy for other people, demonstrating that he still has a heart and feels emotional attachments to other people—in fact, it seems that the strength of this empathy may actually be what motivates his frightening and violent behavior. The bloody bone hints at the kidnapped girl’s fate.
Kovacs enters the dress shop. He finds a piece of fabric in the furnace that looks like it came from a little girl’s clothing. A large cutting block, recently used, sits against the wall beneath a row of hanging knives. Looking again at the dogs fighting over the bone, Kovacs grabs a meat cleaver, goes out to the yard, and butchers the dogs. He recalls that, beneath his mask, Kovacs closes his eyes as the blood splatters his chest, and Rorschach “open[s] them.” The kidnapper is out drinking, so Rorschach leaves and returns after dark.
The bone, cutting block, and knives imply that the kidnapper cut the little girl up and fed her to his dogs, reinforcing Kovacs’s belief that the world is utterly horrific. Kovacs’s statement that he closes his eyes and opens them as Rorschach suggests that this is his moment of personal transformation, of claiming Rorschach as his primary identity so that he can separate himself from his conscience and enact gruesome retribution.
When the kidnapper returns, Rorschach ambushes him and handcuffs him to the furnace. The man claims he’s innocent, but also mentions the little girl without Rorschach mentioning her first. Rorschach sets a hacksaw next to the handcuffed man, but he tells him he won’t have time to cut through the handcuffs. The man understands and wails. Rorschach pours kerosene all over the room, sets it on fire, then steps out of the house. He watches it burn for over an hour. No one escapes. As he stands in the firelight, Rorschach feels “cleansed.” He knows that the world is “rudderless,” that there is no God to give it meaning. All the evil in this “morally blank world” comes from human hands, and as Rorschach, he can leave his own mark on it as well. Disturbed, Dr. Long leaves the interview.
The man’s mention of the little girl without Rorschach mentioning her clearly indicates that he is guilty. Rorschach’s advice that the man won’t have time to saw through the handcuffs before burning to death implies that he will only survive by sawing off his own arm. Rorschach’s action thus creates a balanced sense of retribution: the kidnapper who cut a little girl to pieces can only live by cutting his own body to pieces as well. This gruesome solution demonstrates both the underlying logic of Rorschach’s actions and the cruelty inherent in that logic; he believes in perfect justice, but that justice very often creates more agony. Rorschach’s statement that the world is “rudderless” suggests that he feels the same nihilism as the Comedian and Jon Osterman.
“From the notes of Dr. Malcolm Long. October 28th, 1985”: Long walks home, bothered by news of war in the Middle East and a man shouting racial slurs at him on the street. When he gets home, Gloria reminds him that friends are visiting for dinner. During dinner, one of the friends asks about Long’s work with Rorschach, if he’s learned about any “kinky” or exciting crimes. Long tells him flatly about the girl who was kidnapped, sliced up, and fed to dogs. Gloria leaves, upset. The friends are horrified and make an excuse to leave.
Malcom and Gloria’s dinner guest’s hope to hear about a “kinky” crime suggests that most people live in a state of unreality; they do not recognize the horror of the world and thus fetishize pain and criminality. When Long tells the man the truth, everyone but him leaves the room, indicating that most people cannot cope with such horrors, at least not without the aid of a constructed identity like Rorschach’s.
Malcolm Long sits on his bed and stares at a Rorschach blot. He tries to see it as a tree, but it looks more like a dead cat he once found, with maggots eating its stomach away. Worse yet, it looks like “meaningless blackness.” Long thinks, “We are alone. There is nothing else.”
Although Dr. Long tried to convince Rorschach that the world was not a terrible place, his new sense of nihilism suggests that Rorschach has instead brought Long around to his own dark view of the world—simply by telling the truth of his own experiences.
A New York City Police Department report summarizes Rorschach’s arrest and the apparent murder of Edgar Jacobi, also known as Moloch. It states that several officers were injured during his arrest; the one who was shot by the grappling gun is in critical condition. A New York State Psychiatric Hospital report summarizes Rorschach’s early life with his abusive mother, Sylvia Glick, and how he excelled at literature and religious education after leaving her custody. Two documents that Rorschach wrote as a child talk about his missing father, whom he believes is a good patriot like President Truman, and a dream about his mother having sex with a stranger, which leaves Rorschach feeling “dirty” and confused.
The police report illuminates several details about Rorschach’s character. His interest in religious education suggests that his strict moralism originates in religious teachings, even though Rorschach no longer observes any religion or believes in God. His belief that his absent father is a patriot suggests that he holds his father up as an imaginary role model to emulate, in much the same way that he idolizes the Comedian later. Likewise, his dream about his mother and confused feelings suggest that he is sexually repressed, which was also suggested previously when he noted that his mask helps him escape feelings like lust.