Rorschach's Morality in Watchmen Ben bourret

Traditionally, superheroes have been constructed as the perfect moral figures. However, the graphic novel, Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, challenges this idea. Many of the characters in Watchmen are morally dubious characters; they greatly complicate the idea of what it means to be heroic. In particular, Rorschach is a highly complex character in Watchmen; he has moral flaws but also has moments of taking the high road. However, by examining the character of Rorschach, one can realize that questions of morality can become impossible to answer and that people are unfit to judge the morals of others.

Rorschach (p. 405)

Rorschach is incredibly tough and unchanging in his beliefs. One of the most consistent elements of Rorschach is his unwavering punishment of evil. From Chapter 1 to the final chapter of the story, his mantra is "never compromise."

Rorschach's mantra (p. 32, 402)

Rorschach's mask reflects this incredibly tough attitude towards evil. For instance, on page 188, Rorschach describes his mask as being designed with black and white colors, but no gray. Rorschach literally sees the world in terms of black and white, because he looks through a mask of only these two colors. For Rorschach, there is no gray area - there is just good and evil. That is why he is so tough on even minor wrongdoings.

Rorschach's black and white mask (p. 188)

This viewing of the world in terms of black and white is highly problematic, however. For instance, Rorschach views two dogs who were fed a murdered child as evil, and so he kills them. But the dogs were not really evil creatures; they did not know that what they were doing was wrong. They were innocents but Rorschach views them as evil. This shows that Rorschach's judgment of morality is not always accurate, which can be highly problematic considering that Rorschach's method of dealing with immorality is often murder.

Rorschach kills the dogs (p. 199)

Rorschach also deals with evil through violence. For example, he kills a child murderer by setting him on fire; this questions the idea that Rorschach is a morally good figure. If the child murderer's unethical action was homicide, then Rorschach should also be viewed as an immoral character for committing murder as well. Many other characters have this view of Rorschach as an immoral figure; for instance, the police describe his imprisonment as karma for his criminal actions.

Rorschach burns the child murderer; police say Rorschach's imprisonment is karma (p. 203, 172)

Rorschach's morality is further called into question when considering that he largely fights crime only for selfish reasons. One of Rorschach's greatest reasons for fighting evil is not to better the world, but simply because fighting against evil is cathartic for himself. For example, in his journal, Rorschach explains that fighting a rapist/thief is "rewarding" for him. He goes on to explain that "the night is generous" for providing a villain for him to unleash his anger upon. In addition, in the instance of his murder of the two dogs, his shifting mask transforms into a cruel, sadistic smile before he kills the pets. Rorschach largely does not fight evil because it improves the world, but rather because it makes him happy. This selfish reason for fighting crime further challenges Rorschach's morality.

Rorschach enjoys punishing who he considers evil (p. 162, 198)

However, as one progresses through the novel, Rorschach becomes a more and more forgivable character. For instance, about halfway through the graphic novel, it is revealed that Rorschach's anger can be traced back to his childhood. His abusive mother caused significant psychological damage to Walter Kovacs, and he releases his pent up emotions through violence. For example, Kovacs says "Mother" as he murders the dogs. This shows that Kovacs has a deep, psychological need for revenge against his mother's abuse, and he satisfies this desire through fighting crime. In this way, Rorschach is not completely to blame for his violent actions. He is largely spurred to violence because he grew up in a violent household, which left lasting psychological trauma and made him believe that violence is an acceptable form of solving problems. This is one instance where the reader begins to become more sympathetic to Rorschach.

Rorschach has deep psychological issues caused by his mother (p. 182, 199)

The reader also becomes more sympathetic to Rorschach when he shows mercy. Although rare, Rorschach does spare a few of his victims. For example, after learning that Moloch has cancer, Rorschach decides not to confiscate Moloch's illegal drugs. In addition, Rorschach does not harm his landlady, even after she slanders him, because he sees his mother in her and himself in her children. These instances of Rorschach showing mercy demonstrate that Rorschach is capable of taking the high road sometimes.

Rorschach spares Moloch and his landlady (p. 66, 320)

The moment of greatest sympathy comes at Rorschach's death. Rorschach takes his mask off; seeing his face makes the reader truly feel sorry for Rorschach. He lived a difficult life, and ultimately gets killed for being willing to tell the truth. The reader can see here that Rorschach really believes that what he has done was ethically good; he has fought against evil and would rather die than compromise with wrongdoing.

Rorschach's death (p. 406)

In conclusion, the graphic novel attempts to show through Rorschach that nobody is completely morally good or evil. Rorschach's mask may be black and white, but by examining the character of Rorschach himself, one can see that he is a very gray character in terms of morality. He believes in doing good deeds but his means of dealing with evil are often ethically questionable. He also had a very difficult upbringing, which raises questions about whether he is to blame for his actions or his parents. These questions the reader has about Rorschach's morality demonstrate that people are unfit to judge morality. Rorschach judges violent people as evil, but he deals with them using violence himself. Is this ethically acceptable? How is the reader supposed to judge Rorschach's actions as ethically good or bad? Ultimately, the impossibility involved in placing Rorschach on a scale of moral goodness shows an important theme of the novel, that people are simply unfit to be judges of morality.

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