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In Alan Moore?s The Watchmen, Moore presents the reader with two drastically different characters who have one strikingly similar trait. Ozymandias is a handsome, rich, public, and powerful man. Rorschach is an ugly, poor, private, and almost worthless man. Despite all of these contrasts, they share a common philosophy: they believe that the ends justify the means. This is a major theme of the story, and through it Moore causes the reader the ask themselves the question – do the ends justify the means?
Before looking at the concept of the ends justifying the means, it is important to understand just how different the characters of Rorschach and Ozymandias are from each other. Rorschach is strongly right wing, even to the point of fascism. He believes that “the whole world stands on the brink, starring down into bloody hell, all the liberals and intellectuals and smooth-talkers?”(Volume 1 page 1) Rorschach is also an ardent subscriber to the New Frontiersman, a right-wing conspiracy magazine. Ozymandias is an extremely rich philanthropist, who once gave his entire fortune to charity. Ozymandias was the first of all the super heroes to go public, two years before heroes were required to unmask themselves by law. Rorschach never went public, choosing to live as an outlaw rather than give up his identity. Ozymandias is considered by many to be the most handsome man in the world, while Rorschach is an ugly man who does not even bathe on a regular basis. Ozymandias runs an international conglomerate, while Rorschach does not have enough money to pay his rent. These differences present the reader with two extremely different characters, their only similarities being their staunch belief that the ends justify the means.
Moore presents the reader with an early visual clue to the similar natures of Ozymandias and Rorschach in chapter five, titled Fearful Symmetry. Every page of this chapter has a parallel page in the other side of the chapter. For example, pages one, two and three are nine panel pages concerning Rorschach, as is the last page, page twenty-eight, and pages twenty-seven and twenty-six. Page four has one panel the width of the page to begin with, which is then followed by six smaller panels, as does page twenty-five. These pages concern the confrontation between Rorschach and Moloch. Page twenty-five also has the one larger panel at the top, followed by six smaller panels, and this page also concerns Rorschach and Moloch. This mirror-like pattern continues until the center of the comic. While there are other characters in this chapter (Dan and Laurie, the newspaper salesman, and the two policemen), the two characters who receive the most focus in this chapter are Rorschach and Ozymandias. Even the title of this chapter is meant to cause the reader to think about the nature of Rorschach and Ozymandias. The title Fearful Symmetry comes from The Tyger by William Blake. This classic poem and its partner, The Lamb, are two poems about the nature and duality of life. While the tyger may be a predator and the lamb its prey they are both concerned about where they came from. This is a direct parallel to events taking place in The Watchmen, where although Rorschach and Ozymandias may be almost total opposites, they are both attempting to perform acts which will they believe will improve humanity.
Moore hints to the reader that Rorschach believes that the ends justify the means on the very first page, when Rorschach uses his journal to tell the reader that he thinks
that the people “had a choice, all of them. They could have followed in the footsteps of good men like my father or president Truman. Decent men, who believed in a day?s work for a day?s pay.”(Volume 1, page 1) While Truman may have had many great accomplishments, his most famous decision was to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is a real world example of the concept of whether the ends justify the means. Truman would be an obvious hero to Rorschach, as he showed that he was not afraid to make tough decisions for the good of his people.
After the death of the Comedian, Rorschach enters an underworld bar to attempt to find answers as to who may have killed the Comedian. He breaks the fingers of the first man who insults him, and continues to break his fingers, until one of the patrons tells him what he wants to know. While it?s quite possible that this man had committed crimes in the past, Rorschach knew that the he had not killed the Comedian; however, he had no problems in breaking the man?s fingers, if it would lead to more information about the true killer.
The fact that Rorschach is willing to physically assault and threaten Moloch, a seventy year old man, once again shows the reader that Rorschach will do whatever it takes to achieve his goals. It appears likely that Moloch would have told him all he needed to know simply on the fear of what Rorschach might do to him.
In chapter six, the reader begins to see what has led Rorschach to take his hard line stance. Originally Rorschach “just thought I was Rorschach.. Very naive. Very young. Very soft.” (Volume 6, page 14) When asked what it was that made him soft, he replies “let them live.”(Volume 6, page 14) By allowing the criminals to live, Rorschach leaves a chance that they may recommit their crimes. However, by killing the criminals, there is obviously no chance that the criminal will re-offend, thus justifying his actions. Referring to his harsh actions, Rorschach says that “we do not do this thing because it is permitted. We do it because we have to. We do it because we are compelled.” While he does not elaborate on what “it” is, we can assume that it is the war that he is carrying on against criminals. Rorschach believes that he is compelled go to the extremes, and for him there is not even a conscious decision, it is simply something that he knows must be done.
Later on in this chapter, we are shown the horrific sequence of events that led to the creation of Rorschach?s attitude and motivation. After the shock of realizing that the six year old girl he had come to rescue had been brutally murdered, Rorschach changes the path that his life will take. He will no longer be content to react, but will now be a proactive force in the fight against evil. If, by this stance, he is required to break the law, and hurt innocent men, he is willing to do it. In chapter twelve, when faced with impossible odds, we see the lengths that Rorschach is willing to go to for his stance. When told by Night Owl that “We have to compromise?”, (Volume 12, page 20) his response is “No. Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise.”(Volume 12, page 20) A short time after this, he is killed for his no compromise stance.
While Moore shows the reader Rorschach?s belief that the ends justify the means through a series of small events, the reader is shown Ozymandias?s belief in this principle through one horrific, gigantic act. The reader is given the first hint as to what Ozymandias may be planning in chapter two. In this chapter, the reader is shown the attempted formation of a new group of super heroes, called the Crimebusters. The Comedian says that the problems facing America are much too big for a small group of heroes to handle, and then begins to burn the map of the United States. He states that “It don?t matter squat because inside thirty years the nukes are gonna be flyin? like maybugs and then Ozzy here is gonna be the smartest man on the cinder.”(Volume 2, page 11) After this the group begins to disband, Captain Metropolis becomes very upset, saying that “Somebody has to do it, don?t you see? Somebody has to save the world?”(Volume 2, page 11) At the same time that he is saying this, the reader is shown an image of Ozymandias staring at the torn map of the United States. Moore is using foreshadowing in this scene to show that Ozymandias will attempt to save the world.
Moore shows the reader more of Ozymandias?s actions, and the motives for them in chapter twelve. Ozymandias begins to tell his life story to three men that work with him. He explains that there was only one man throughout history with which he has felt any sort of kinship. This man was Alexander of Macedonia, a young army commander who, at the time of his death, was the ruler of most of the civilized world. Ozymandias is in awe of the fact that he could rule without barbarism, mentioning that he installed the world?s greatest seat of learning. He then hints as to his attitude when he says “True, people died? perhaps unnecessarily, though who can judge such things?”(Volume 11, page 8) This shows the reader that Ozymandias believes that acts of that magnitude can not be judged. Ozymandias states that on his trip to Alexander?s hometown that “I resolved to apply antiquity?s teachings to today?s world. Thus began my path to conquest? conquest not of men, but of the evils that beset them.” (Volume 11, page 11) This statement hints to the reader what kind of action Ozymandias might take, and what it is that he is trying to do.
One important thing to remember when considering Ozymandias?s actions, is that not even he was sure that there would be a nuclear war. He says that he thought “the possibility of disarmament progressively more remote.”(Volume 11, page 21) While he may have felt that it was remote, he did not know that it would be impossible.
In chapter eleven, the reader is finally shown the true nature of Ozymandias?s plan. He says that his goal is to “frighten governments into co-operation, I would convince them that earth faced imminent attack by beings from another world.”(Volume 11, page 25) Within the next few pages, he reveals his massive plan which is to teleport an alien like creature to New York, which will kill half of the people living there. While ultimately this did work, there is no denying that he used a terrible means to achieve his ends.
Throughout the Watchmen the reader is presented with many different characters. The characters of Rorschach and Ozymandias have a manichaean relationship. The line between good and evil has been blurred with these two characters: it is unclear to the reader which of the two is good, and which is evil. One is rich, liberal, and handsome. The other is poor, conservative, and ugly. However, despite all of their differences, these characters share a common philosophy: they believe the ends justifies the means.
Moore, Alan. The Watchmen New York. DC Comics, 1987
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