Intent vs. Outcomes AN ANALYSIS OF wATCHMEN BY Jonah PollONE

Can we achieve closure in the novel by understanding a character's morals?

The notion of why a character does what he/she does and the potential outcomes related to his/her decision is a major theme in Watchmen. The "heroes" in the graphic novel are not perfect by any means, making it hard to discern right from wrong. In this Spark Page, I will attempt to analyze why characters from the novel do the things they do (intent) and how this relates to the outcomes of their decisions (or possible outcomes).

Rorschach (Walter Kovacks)

Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon.

Rorschach is a troubled character to say the least. To call him a "Superhero" might be going a bit too far in one direction, but he does have many qualities that place him on the side of doing the right thing. He, more than any other character, is obsessed with justice and doing the right thing no matter what. Even when confronted with a decision that could destroy the world, he never fails to stand up for what he believes in. Throughout the novel, his intent is always the same: do what is right and achieve justice, no matter what. This becomes a complicated issue because to get information from others so that he can do the right thing, Rorschach does not shy away from torturing others. While his intent is to seek the truth and do good for the world (or so it seems), at times his level of control over his actions is questionable.

In order to extract information from others, Rorschach often hurts and even kills criminals. A prime example of this is when he interrogated a man in the bar for hiding information from him. In his mind, he is doing good because he has a purpose of seeking the truth and making things right in the end. The question we have to ask is: is he doing the right thing by hurting others in order to eventually achieve a sense of justice?

Rorschach's experienced a very abusive past that was not conducive to a high degree of empathy. This benefits him when fighting injustice, but his reality of dealing with one-on-one relationships with people like Night Owl are a challenge for him. When he realizes he wasn't appreciative enough of Night Owl, he acknowledges that he struggles being empathetic but maintains that he cares for Dan in his own way.

Few characters in the novel have a well-defined sense of what they feel is right or wrong. Rorschach is one of these characters. He seems to relate on a high level to The Comedian; admiring him for sticking to his values, even if they are different than his own. Rorschach will do the right thing (in his mind) no matter what the circumstance is. He never compromises, even though it kills him in the end. The book makes it difficult to really define closure with Rorschach, but I think it's apparent that in his mind, as long as someone has intentions he/she believes are good, it matters more than the eventual outcome of what might happen as a result.

Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias)

Do it? Dan, I'm not a Republic Serial villain. Do you seriously think I'd explain my master-stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty-five minutes ago.

Adrian Veidt, like Rorschach, uses force to create the change that he desires. However, unlike Rorschach Veidt believes the people are not smart enough to put decisions into their own hands . As a character he has a major hubris problem that seems to cloud his objective decision making. He even went as far as to hire an assassin to try to kill him just so that Rorschach and the other "Superheroes" wouldn't suspect he killed the Comedian. Through this process, his assistant was shot and killed, resulting in an outcome that he had not anticipated. Therefore we have to ask: has Adrian Veidt lost touch with reality?

When he realizes in his mind (just like the pirate) that he must intervene in order to save the world, Adrian decides to create a "monster" that would wipe out half of the people in New York, making it seem like an alien invasion had occurred in the U.S. This in turn (at least what Adrian believes) will cause all countries about to bomb the U.S. to call off their attacks, saving the world from nuclear carnage. Adrian's hubris allows him to believe with full certainty that this would save the world, but it is not definitive that his actions worked. As the journalist puts it in the end of the book, the end is "entirely in our hands."

It is uncertain whether Veidt's massacre of millions of people saved the world, but ethically it does not matter. Even if he did save the world, I do not believe he was justified in killing so many people because that assumes people are inherently unable to solve their own problems--which I do not agree with. There must have been another way, and even if there was not one, Adrian still murdered millions of innocent people and putting the decision in his own hands was unfair. This goes along with his treatment of his loyal servants; he killed them for the same reason he killed the Comedian: to tie up loose ends so that no one would find out he was the reason for the "alien" showing up in New York.

All in all, I think Adrian's intent was to save as many people as possible with as much control as he could create. Was this accomplished by murdered millions of New Yorkers or did he doom millions for no reason? I believe he doomed innocents without good justification.

The Cast-Away

"Finally, faced with horrors both intolerable and unavoidable, I chose madness."

The Cast-Away character from Tales of the Black Freighter is a stranded sailor obsessed with making it back to his home to avenge what he thinks is the death of his family by a looming pirate vessel. He is used as a counterpoint to many scenes in the graphic novel and is in many ways similar to Adrian Veidt (hinted at in the book); he cares about his family so much but after realizing (in his mind) that the pirate ship already raped and killed his family members and took over his town, he attempts to sail back to avenge the death of his family. In the process of doing so he inadvertently kills innocent people and his own wife. Once he realizes his fault he succumbs to the ship he was so scared of in the beginning.

Adrian is like The Cast-Away both dream of things they are afraid of. The Cast-Away dreams of the pirate ship which he fears will arrive on the docks of his town. Adrian dreams of being the pirate, clouded with selfish desires to such a degree that he forgets who he is. Throughout the novel, both characters struggle to define their true intentions which clouds their ability to decide if what they are doing is right.

Adrian is so unbelieving of the human race that he puts the decision into his own hands, believing fully that the outcome would be the world was saved because of him. The pirate is the same way in that he has made himself believe with certainty that his town had been destroyed and his family murdered to the point where when he finally arrives back home, he doesn't even recognize his own wife and kills her thinking she is a pirate invader. This scene is presented right before Adrian kills his three loyal servants. This draws a parallel to Veidt, who wants to protect the world so much, his vision might be clouded from discerning right from wrong. Killing half of New York certainly does not fit what is "right."

The Cast-Away eventually swims toward the pirate ship because, in his words "The World I'd tried to save was lost beyond recall. I was a horror amongst horrors must I dwell." Similar to the supposed Pirate, Adrian Veidt could have destroyed the very world he was trying to save by committing genocide.

Watchmen concludes with the book asking the reader to define his/her own ending. While no one truly knows if the world was saved because of Adrian Veidt, if Rorschach did the right thing overall, or if the Cast Away ends up on the Pirate Ship forever, we can judge the characters' actions by what we have read in the story. Somewhere along the way, Adrian's intentions were obfuscated by his Hubris. Rorschach's intent for justice may have been subtracted by his use of punishment on others. The Cast Away character did love his family, but maybe all his time at sea without water destroyed his sense of right and wrong, leading him to kill innocent people and those he loved.

The intentions of these characters certainly aligned with the possible outcomes we, as readers, have to make sense of, but the authors did not tell us what will happen. What do you think happens as a result of these characters' actions?

Created By
Jonah Pollone
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