Watchmen

Watchmen

by

Alan Moore

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Summary
Analysis
Hollis, in New York, calls Sally in California and tells her that he saw Nite Owl and Silk Spectre on the news together, so Daniel and Laurie must be together now. Sally and Hollis reminisce about the old days for a while, then Hollis hangs up. On the street corner, the news vendor worries about the state of the world and the oncoming Russian invasion and thinks about how strange it is that Rorschach used to be one of his regular customers. In the pirate comic, the survivor floats on his raft of dead bodies and imagines pirates cutting his wife apart with their cutlasses. He begins to go insane.
The pirate comic’s survivor’s fantasy about his wife and children’s deaths demonstrates how one’s imagination, though only a fantasy, can drive them to take real action or even to insanity. The survivor’s imagining pirates killing his family parallels the news vendor’s worries about Russian invasion, since both may happen eventually, and would be terrible, but have not actually happened yet.
Themes
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In Dan’s basement, Laurie frets about actually breaking Rorschach out of jail; she thinks it’s an insane idea. Dan makes preparations and insists that they have to do it. Laurie obviously didn’t get cancer from Jon, the Comedian was murdered, and it seems Rorschach was framed; it all feels like a massive conspiracy, as if someone is trying to “trigger Armageddon.” Dan thinks they should contact Ozymandias, but not until after they break Rorschach loose, just in case he tries to stop them.
Despite Laurie’s willingness to have an adventure with Daniel, her hesitation to actually break Rorschach out of jail suggests that she does not want to truly return to the vigilante lifestyle. That is, Laurie enjoys the occasional thrill of it, but the chaos and danger that such a life brings outweighs any personal enjoyment or sense of adventure in the long-term. Dan’s idea that someone is trying to “trigger Armageddon” foreshadows Adrian Veidt’s plot, which is indeed designed to do exactly that—though not in the way that Dan is imagining.
Themes
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In prison, a short man named Big Figure and two goons visit Rorschach’s cell. They want to kill him but can’t reach him, since he’s locked inside. Big Figure tells Rorschach that he’s going to have his revenge soon. He’s been waiting for this chance for 20 years.
 Big Figure’s quest for vengeance suggests that Rorschach has made many enemies in the criminal underworld. The fact that Big Figure waited for his chance for 20 years also indicates that Rorschach has been effective in getting some criminals arrested and off the streets.
Themes
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Moralist vs. Utilitarian Ethics Theme Icon
At Dan’s house, one of the detectives who arrested Rorschach visits while Laurie is taking a shower. He introduces himself as Steven Fine and chats with Dan, insinuating several connections between him, Rorschach, and the vigilantes who saved people from the fire earlier that week. The detective says that no one’s bothered by heroes rescuing a few people from a fire, but if they make any more appearances, society will return to the “spirit of ’77.” When the detective leaves, Dan tells Laurie that the government is on to them. They have to break Rorschach out within the next day.
The detective’s mention of “the spirit of ‘77” suggests that society will regain its antipathy toward costumed vigilantes and be ready to take action against them, since ’77 is the year that the Keene Act outlawing most vigilantes was passed. Although the heroes view themselves as protectors of society, such a spirit suggests that society feels safer without masked vigilantes running around and taking things into their own hands. Daniel’s return to life as Nite Owl thus defies society’s wishes, even if he did successfully save some people’s lives.
Themes
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In the New Frontiersman office, Mr. Godfrey, the manager, and his young employee Seymour are pasting a new issue of the paper together. Mr. Godfrey tells Seymour to get a filler piece from the “crank file,” which is filled with racist op-eds and trashy articles. Godfrey is thrilled by all the chaos in the news, since it makes for a good newspaper issue. Elsewhere, on an unnamed island, an artist named Ms. Manish draws a large picture of a giant squid-like monster, telling Mr. Shea that she is doing a study of the “facial assembly.” The man references some sort of creature being refrigerated and hauled away on a ship. In Dan’s basement, he and Laurie climb aboard Archie, dressed in their costumes.
Godfrey, as the head of a right-wing newspaper, occupies an opposite position to Doug Roth, head of Nova Express, which is a left-wing newspaper. Godfrey’s delight in the awful headlines and his “crank file” of racy, but terrible articles suggests that right-wing media is more interested in sensationalism than in real journalism. Ms. Manish painting on the island recalls the Comedian’s statement to Moloch that he found an island filled with scientists and artists, hinting at a conspiracy. It’s also notable that the Mr. Shea referenced here seems to be Max Shea, the author of the pirate comic, who was previously said to have disappeared mysteriously.
Themes
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Elsewhere, Hollis Mason carves a jack-o-lantern while listening to the news talk about a feud between New Frontiersman and Nova Express. On the street corner, the news vendor chats with a crowd of men. A newspaper headline announces that Rorschach caused a prison riot that left 5 people dead. In the pirate comic, the survivor starts to speak with the corpses keeping his raft afloat.
Once again, Rorschach’s actions either directly or indirectly cause multiple deaths. While this foreshadows his escape, it also suggests that Rorschach’s presence creates more death and disruption than order and justice, despite his lofty ideals.
Themes
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On Halloween night, Big Figure returns with more inmates to cut through Rorschach’s cell bars and kill him. Rorschach antagonizes the men outside his cell until one of them, a heavy-set man, reaches through to grab him. Rorschach traps his arms, tying them to the bars with his coat, so that the man’s body blocks the lock they need to cut. Big Figure orders his other men to kill the fat one, so one of them slits the man’s throat. Another man cuts through the door with a wired plasma torch and runs towards Rorschach, torch in hand. Rorschach climbs onto his wall-mounted bunk and spills water on the floor, causing the torch’s current to electrocute the second man to death.
Big Figure casually orders the execution of his own henchman, demonstrating that he is a ruthless individual. Rorschach’s handling of a situation where he is both trapped and outnumbered suggests that, despite his odd behavior and disheveled appearance, he is very intelligent and thinks tactically. This reveals how Rorschach has survived so long, even though both organized criminals and the police wanted him dead or incapacitated, and again suggests that if he’d had a different upbringing, he could have contributed a lot to society through less violent means.
Themes
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Dan and Laurie fly their airship over the prison and see that a riot has started below. Laurie is nervous, but Dan emits a sonic screech from the ship, which incapacitates the rioting prisoners and wardens. Laurie and Dan jump out of the airship and go wandering through the prison. Dan feels like Rorschach has been trying to reach out to him lately, almost like he wants to be “friends.” They find Rorschach in a darkened hallway, walking calmly along. He barely reacts to their appearance and stops to use the bathroom. However, he says he is glad to see Daniel back in costume. Laurie thinks all of this is a mistake and wishes that Jon were with them. They make their way to the roof of the prison, climb in the airship, and leave.
Dan’s feeling that Rorschach has been trying to make friends, but does not know how, again humanizes Rorschach and makes him a tragic figure, rather than simply terrifying or disturbing. This humanization of Rorschach reinforces the idea that the vigilante heroes are dynamic, complex individuals, rather than simply being good or evil. Laurie’s wish for Jon suggests that she misses his stability (or perhaps just his raw power), even though she is less lonely with Daniel than she was with him.
Themes
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Laurie, Daniel, and Rorschach return to Daniel’s house. Laurie seems rattled. She goes into the living room and is startled to find Jon sitting on the couch. Jon says he knew that she wanted to speak with him, so they’re going to Mars to have a conversation where Laurie will “try to convince [him] to save the world.” This plan bothers Dan, but Laurie thinks it’s the right thing to do, so she goes with Jon. They teleport away. The police, led by detective Steven Fine, arrive outside of Dan’s house and start breaking through the door. Dan and Rorschach get into the airship and fly away.
Jon’s decision to fetch Laurie so she can convince him to come back to Earth suggests that Jon still feels some attachment to humanity, however faint. Meanwhile, Laurie’s willingness to go with Jon to Mars indicates that she doubts her choice to leave him and become a vigilante again with Daniel, showing how both characters feel conflicted about what their roles in the chaotic world should be.
Themes
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On the street corner, the news vendor and his friends talk about the reappearance of costumed vigilantes and imagine what it would feel like to be caught in an atomic blast. A gang of young adults force their way into Hollis Mason’s house. He thinks they are trick-or-treaters at first, but they beat him to death and flee. Younger kids in costumes discover his body when they arrive, looking for candy. In the pirate comic, the survivor jumps into the water to drown himself, but he doesn’t sink. He realizes that he has made it to land, reaching his destination at last.
Hollis’s sudden and brutal death appears needless and has no role in the greater story arc. Rather, it is an act of nihilistic violence, a symptom of society breaking down as World War III looms on the horizon, and it’s also a piece of evidence for Rorschach’s belief in the world’s pointless misery. The pirate comic’s survivor’s attempt at suicide further reflects the nihilism taking hold of society, as it seems that everyone might soon die by atomic blast, while his survival foreshadows humanity’s ultimate survival.
Themes
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 The next section is an excerpt from an article called, “Honor is like the hawk: sometimes it must go hooded” by Hector Godfrey, published in New Frontiersman. Godfrey accuses Doug Roth, head of Nova Express, of being a Communist agent and un-American, since he criticizes masked vigilantes and started the questions about Dr. Manhattan’s cancer-causing effects. Godfrey harkens back to a more patriotic age and suggests that the masked vigilantes are a continuation of the tradition started by the Ku Klux Klan, who did some bad things but were essentially trying to preserve American culture and prevent it from being “mongrelized.” He calls on the government to investigate Nova Express as traitors.
Godfrey relates the heroes’ vigilante justice to the Ku Klux Klan, which he sees as a mark of nobility but which the reader will undoubtedly see as a negative connotation. This again condemns the idea of masked vigilantes carrying out their own justice outside the law, while adding to the novel’s negative characterization of right-wing media. However, it’s notable that Doug Roth isn’t blameless either, since the questions about Dr. Manhattan were indeed baseless rumors. This excerpt highlights how hard it is to trust any media in a polarized world.
Themes
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A back page article states that the police investigation into pirate comic writer Max Shea’s disappearance has been called off. Of note, several other creative professionals have also mysteriously disappeared, including the artist Hira Manish, the architect Norman Leith, and science fiction author James Trafford March. Additionally, the head of recently deceased psychic Robert Deschaines appears to have been stolen from his corpse before his family had time to bury him.
Once again, the articles at the end of each chapter serve to fill in Watchmen’s world or provide foreshadowing hints at what is to come, particularly since each chapter was originally issued on a monthly basis. The disappearances of several artists as well as a psychic’s head provide clues to the nature of Adrian Veidt’s ultimate plot.
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