This is a paper I wrote in college about V for Vendetta. I was sharing it with someone recently and thought it would be good to post on this site. This paper takes a very academic look a the text and the images produced.
Dr. R.A. Brown
June 6, 2007
Visual Parallelisms in V for Vendetta
Works of fiction are literal and by design also contain elements of visual stimuli that allow the reader to imagine greater than the words on a page. Many times, these visuals are symbolic, foreshadow pivotal pieces of the story to come, and even put into perspective pieces of the story, even sometimes after the fact. In graphic novels this functionary component is presented differently because the images already exist on the page but do still tell a story in much the same way as a traditional novel.
Graphic novel artists and writers use the visual components in their work to create context and connectivity in the dialogue spoken, the internalized exposition, and the images around these rich characters. One method that a writer will use to create deeper connections with the story is to utilize references that act as parallelisms within the text and, in the context of graphic novels; these parallels can run deeper as to establish a visual fluidity to the story in much the way a film would. These parallels can be allusions to other works that provide deeper context or can be reflexive and connect pieces of the story to events that were previously unconnected. The use of these parallels strengthens the overall scope of the story and enhances the experience of the reader.
In many instances, these parallels provide connectivity and comparison between their work and the works of another writer. These allusions can mirror other works as well as in the case of Oscar Wilde’s parallels to Faust in The Picture of Dorian Grey, or the references to Wilde and his lifestyle in Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. All of these references mean something within the context of the literature itself providing the reader with deeper connections to the work, the character, and the overall plot of the story. In V for Vendetta such references are used. With each reference, which is primarily visual in nature, there stands a parallel to pivotal parts of the text.
V for Vendetta is a graphic novel written by Alan Moore, the British writer of such works as The Watchmen, Swampthing, and the graphic poetry collection, Another Suburban Romance. The story is set in post fascist revolution England in a time in which the people in England have traded their freedom for the safety a dictatorship can provide. One revolutionary figure stands up to the government and opens the eyes to a nation who have closed them in compliance to the edicts issued by the government. This man, known simply as V, dons a Guy Fawkes mask in the spirit of rebellion long forgotten by the citizens of England. With the help of his accidental partner Evey, V sets these people free or rather gives them the tools to do it themselves.
One of the initial parallels and perhaps the most obvious is the parallel between Guy Fawkes and V. V wears a Guy Fawkes mask as a symbol and allusion to the historical actions of Fawkes in the spirit of rebellion to end tyranny. V wears the mask to remind people that it is the right of men to stand against their oppressors and act outside of society as vigilantes to safeguard or attain freedom or justice. Fawkes legendarily plotted to, and almost did, blow up the Houses of Parliament in London to send a message to the government. In the end, Fawkes is arrested before lighting the fuse to the powder kegs collected underneath the buildings and is then hung in the public square for his acts of treason however; in the case of V, he actually does blow up the Houses of Parliament and accomplishes the message that Fawkes tried to.
In the early parts of the text many of these parallels can be found in V’s room in his collection of movie posters and his banned books. Each piece of nostalgia means something greater within the context of V, Britain, and other characters. The initial images the reader comes into contact with are the posters above V’s dressing room mirror. The first poster is of the film Son of Frankenstein. The film portrays the son of Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein whom returns to the family home to discover the monster’s carcass. With the help of Igor Frankenstein is able to heal the monster’s wounds in hopes of restoring the good name of his father. The monster gets away from him and through his own denial he allows for the monster to be killed. This relates to the political arc of the novel. Susan is a parallel character of Frankenstein’s son in the sense that he finds the carcass of his father’s creation (England) and restores it as a superpower. England gets away from him by way of V’s dissent and Susan remains powerless to stop it because of his own denial and neurosis.
The second visible poster in his room has on it an advertisement for White Heat starring James Cagney as Cody, a murderer who was jailed and then escaped from jail V resembles the idea of V as a terrorist. In the eyes of the Norse Fire party, people like V are criminals just because they are different. V is jailed for his crimes and escapes. In the Cagney film Cody joins up with his cohorts and decides to get back at the government by robbing a company’s payroll. Cody is shot in a chemical warehouse by a policeman who sets into motion Cody’s death. Cody shoots the chemical canisters surrounding him which causes them to explode. As the novel dictates, V is shot by a policeman and is then blown up at the end of the novel.
The third poster of significance is the poster for Poe’s “Murder in the Rue Morgue”. In Poe’s story August Dupin, the story’s main character, is reading the newspaper when he comes across an article about a woman’s murder. The woman was murdered on the fourth floor of her home, a floor that was not easily accessed by those not possessing a key. After she was murdered the woman was stuffed into the chimney. In this case Dupin represents V. The newspaper can be linked to the paper in his cell that he reads concerning Valerie. Valerie was in room four which also happened to be virtually inaccessible to those not holding the keys to the cell. After Valerie was murdered her body was burned, almost as if she had been stuffed inside of a chimney.
The books V keeps in the Shadow Gallery shed light upon some of his characteristics. Each book within the gallery has its own story which parallels the events in the novel. The first pictures of the books appear on the first page of the novel. V is standing in the center, silhouetted by the various shadows cast by his collections. The first two books that need mentioning are Mein Kampf and Utopia. Mein Kampf is the autobiography of Adolph Hitler, leader of the Nazi party during World War II and a known fascist dictator. Utopia deals with a society that is peaceful and tolerant. The citizens of this society are equal in every sense of the word and are left under little restraint of laws and mores and without the fear of the taboo. The significance of the order of the books is the paralleled foreshadowing it implies. Mein Kampf comes before Utopia. This represents progress. The collection starts with fascism and progresses to Capital and then Utopia, which happens to be moving in the direction of V’s physical location. It sets forth a direction for the plot of the story, beginning under the tyranny of fascists and ending with the peace and equality found in a Utopian society.
The second time V’s book collection is shown the reader gets a myriad of allusions that parallel the story. The first of significance is Faust which is a German story about a man who makes a deal with the devil in exchange for knowledge and power. Christopher Marlowe adapted this story into his Doctor Faustus. In Marlowe’s version of Faust Dr. John Faustus sells his soul to the devil in hopes of gaining a mastery of the dark arts and hopes to possess the knowledge of the world. The devil gives Faustus his minion Mephistopheles who is responsible for the education of Faustus. In the context of the novel Evey is made to represent Faustus, a point V makes himself. V compares Evey to Faustus when she makes the deal with him to aid him in his crusade. V represents Mephistopheles in the sense that he is the one who is made to educate Evey. By making a deal with V she sells her soul to him. This is evident when Evey becomes V at the end of the novel cementing her contract with the devil. Another method of looking at Evey as Faustus is the scene where she is made to see everything and is hence reborn. Faustus was reborn and then shown the true majesty of hell and the sinful pleasures the path of Lucifer had to offer.
On the shelf there also sits a book on The French Revolution. The French Revolution is a powerful parallel because of the many similarities that can be drawn from it. There is of course the obvious parallel of both societies being dominated by an oppressive dictatorship. Another underlying similarity is the acts of terrorism committed. I felt like every time V did something extreme he was “storming the Bastille”. There is also another powerful parallel which is grimmer than any other drawn. During the Jacobin rule of France a “Reign of Terror” was instituted in which all political activists and social degenerates were beheaded by way of the guillotine. Over eighteen thousand were killed this way without prejudice. This can be related to the reign of terror the Nose Finger party instituted as a way of dealing with their own “problems”, though in all fairness the guillotine almost seems more humane in opposition to the “Resettlement Camp”.
The last of the truly powerful parallels is that of V’s copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Shelly’s novel is an epistolary/frame narrative which begins with Captain Walton encountering Dr. Frankenstein on his ship. Frankenstein goes on to tell Walton of his story of creating the monster and his encounters with the monster. In this case Finch is Walton and Delia is Frankenstein leaving V to parallel the creature. V was an experiment of Delia’s at Lark Hill and was a patchwork of the genome. Like the creature, V was able to escape and eventually amass an understanding of the world in a supreme and intellectual way. Much like the creature V gains that education and swears revenge on his creator. Finch’s discovery is a direct parallel to Walton’s because he experiences the story of creation through the voice of Delia though it was through her journal.
Throughout the novel many images were placed strategically to represent some underlying parallel to the overall arc of the work. There are many, many more within the text, each one of them meaning something relevant to the course of the story be it implied character parallels or even acts of homage. Each image was carefully crafted and as a visual medium was done so to illuminate connections within the text and continue to give it deeper meaning. At the surface level, these visual components are random items found in V’s home or on his person. They are part of his dress or part of the static background in which the story is told but, on deeper levels they provide the reader insight into the character and strengthen an already strong and visually stunning story.