“The only freedom left to my people is the freedom to starve. The freedom to die. The freedom to live in a world of chaos. Should I allow that freedom? I think not. I think not.”
-Adam Susan, leader of Fascist England
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“Her name is anarchy. And she has taught me more as a mistress than you ever did! She has taught me that justice is meaningless without freedom. She is honest. She makes no promises and breaks none. Unlike you, Jezebel.”
-V to a statue of Madam Justice
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Note: Spoilers. If you haven’t read the book/seen the movie, and you don’t want the ending to be spoiled, stop reading. I’m not promising not to reveal anything important.
I recently finished reading V for Vendetta for the first time. A remarkable graphic novel. I think the idea that stood out the most for me, the idea I’m still pondering a few days later, is the concept of identity.
First, Evey, the first girl that we see V rescue. He takes her back to his home (lair? headquarters? whatever), and throughout the book, she becomes his accomplice, of sorts. They experience a separation when she no longer wants to be involved with V’s plans, but then, in the end, she once again subscribes to V’s ideals and eventually takes his place after he is killed.
Her name, though, Evey, alludes to Eve, the first woman in the Bible, Adam’s companion. In fact, her name is Eve, which she calls herself infrequently. More often, she adds the -y to the end, a derivational ending that implies, perhaps, innocence and youth. In the fascist world in which they live, V is trying, in a twisted way, to save the citizens of England from the political slavery they are enduring. Eve is his hope for future reconstruction, his legacy, the one to even assume his identity after V is gone.
We also have an Adam–Adam Susan, the fascist leader of England. In this tale, Adam and Eve are not on the same team.
Then, of course, in regards to identity, we have V. This is an assumed identity, named for the room in which he was held in a concentration camp (the Roman numeral V). It really frustrated me at first that we never find out who V really is. I wanted desperately to know–was he Evey’s father? A high official in the fascist regime? Why could we not know? The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that we never could know V’s true identity. V was a constructed identity, borne out of the torture from the concentration camp, the vicious, mind-altering drugs that were pumped into his body (the drugs that killed everyone else involved in the experiment). V is who this person became–whoever he was before ceased to exist. Knowing the face behind the mask would give us readers no knowledge or power. We must accept V is a construction, with a brand-new identity.
This constructed identity, in fact, is what makes it so easy for Evey to step forward after V’s death. She then becomes V. Without knowing his original identity, it is easier for her to don the mask and take his place, to continue his plan of terrorizing England in hopes of destroying fascism. And because no one else knows who V really is, as well (he’s killed them all off–or driven them insane–at this point), then no one has to know that the original V is dead (if he is indeed the original–who’s to say he didn’t assume the identity from some predecessor?).
Beyond identity, this graphic novel also explores the idea of freedom. The first quote from Adam Susan reveals that fascism took hold in England because the leaders believed that freedom only leads to tragedy–poverty, death. They could only see the negative effects of freedom. V, on the other hand, believes “justice is meaningless without freedom.” Enslaving the citizens means that justice is a null concept. When people have no free will, no choice, then we have removed any concept of right and wrong. When people are not free to choose, then we cannot exact justice. We cannot discipline and lead them in the right direction. We can only punish again and again, as if they are no more than brainless lab rats.
The worst part about the fascist regime is, perhaps, that weak, fallible humans are the ones mandating what is right or wrong. And they screwed it up. Badly.
While reading, I definitely felt like this book had an empty, God-less feel. But God is not absent. I won’t make the argument of V being a Christ-figure (because it could really be argued either way). But in exploring the idea of freedom, one can’t help but draw correlations to slavery and freedom in the biblical sense. If Christians are enslaved by the law–by a set of rules (do this, don’t do that) supposedly governing our faith–then we cannot be fully free in Christ. And I think the enslavement of the British citizens–the hopeless, empty lives they lead under the fascist regime–is a good depiction of not fulling accepting that Christ is the only method of salvation.
Another good image that comes out of the book is this: when V hacks the equipment and turns off all the video feeds across the country, people experience a measure of freedom that they had not seen in years. And a girl on a bicycle stands below one of the malfunctioning cameras and spraypaints “Bolucs” (misspelled, of course) onto the pavement. She then leaves V’s signature mark on the wall. She embraces the freedom to question authority, and even to misspell a word. Did she use that freedom in an appropriate way? Perhaps not. Still, she was free in that moment.
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I really enjoyed this graphic novel. Watchmen is still my favorite, but this one was really engrossing and thought-provoking, as well. I’m eager to see the film now–I’ve been waiting until I finished the book.
On a side note, my mom called me a comic book nerd after I launched into an elaborate explanation of comic books vs. graphic novels and a long-winded summary of the book. I fear she might be a little bit right. 🙂