Watchmen

Watchmen

by

Alan Moore

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Themes and Colors
Heroes, Villains, and Vigilantes Theme Icon
Moralist vs. Utilitarian Ethics Theme Icon
Identity and Empowerment Theme Icon
Nihilism and Meaning Theme Icon
American Corruption and Patriotism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Watchmen, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Heroes, Villains, and Vigilantes

Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen tells the interweaving stories of a handful of American heroes between the 1940s and 1980s, loosely referred to as the Watchmen (referencing a 1963 speech by John F. Kennedy). Although the Watchmen do not possess superhuman powers—except for Jon Osterman (Dr. Manhattan)—they occupy archetypal hero roles, fighting crime, wearing costumes, and forming leagues. However, contrasting with popular depictions of superheroes past such as Superman, Moore’s heroes are far from perfect…

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Moralist vs. Utilitarian Ethics

Though both are vigilantes, Rorschach (Walter Kovacs) and Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) adhere to opposing ethical systems. Rorschach holds a strict view of morality and condemns any breach of the law in any form. Veidt takes a utilitarian approach, disregarding small breaches of the law if they serve a greater good. The two heroes’ opposite views of ethics inevitably draw them into conflict with each other, pitting one system against the other. Rorschach and Adrian Veidt’s…

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Identity and Empowerment

Every one of the Watchmen does their vigilante work under a constructed identity. For some of the heroes, their masks are only a convenient way to hide their given names—but for many of the Watchmen, their alter egos become a convenient way to cope with their own insufficiencies. This is particularly apparent for Walter Kovacs, who finds a sense of power and control in his heroic identity as Rorschach. Walter Kovacs uses his secret…

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Nihilism and Meaning

Watchmen takes a grim view of the modern world, depicting the sense of nihilism that arises from global atrocities and rapid technological change. The world of the novel feels chaotic and godless. As a result, many of the Watchmen struggle to understand life and wonder whether any meaning exists in the universe at all. Although for many of the Watchmen, life feels nihilistic and absurd, Laurie (the second Silk Spectre) and Jon (Dr. Manhattan) argue…

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American Corruption and Patriotism

Alan Moore sets Watchmen’s main storyline in 1985, though it frequently flashes back as early as the 1940s. Set in a fictionalized version of the real world, the story takes place in the context of 20th-century America’s defining moments, such as the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and the Cold War, all instances in which the United States government began to show signs of its own corruption, hubris, and war-mongering. Though some events in…

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