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ISSN: 0974-892X


Jul '19 & Jan '20



Dystopias Feeding Utopias – Analysing V For Vendetta

Bipasha Bharti, Research Scholar, Department of English and Cultural Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh



Based on the various antithetical aspects of utopia and dystopia in literary imaginations, this paper argues how, ironically, the existence of one feeds the imagination of the other. V for Vendetta, a graphic novel, portrays that how a parochial ethnic group, through the institution of government and bigotry, can establish a dystopic society by removing differing race, sexuality, religion, liberal arts. But, through the graphic novel, its author and illustrator, with the help of various images, symbols, thought boxes, bring out the irony that in the wake of maintaining a homogeneous, non threatened race and society, the government arrests the dynamism of a society and sets its "talent pool" in an irreversible spiral of decay, and also how racism, homophobia, sexism, play an important part in establishing a draconian regime.

However, the protagonist is used by the author as a potent symbol of resistance, in a Fawkesian mask, who immerses himself in the knowledge of different literatures, arts, religions and cultures and launches a planned anarchy to dismantle the multiple layers of dystopic police state. Through the powerful of symbol of Guy Fawkes' legend, Valerie's (the lesbian's) letter, Old Bailley's statue and roses, Alan Moore builds an emotionally moving narrative of journey of Norse fire regime of England from dystopic phase to utopic one with the single handed superman like force of the main character V.

Keywords: Vendetta, Graphic Novel, Dystopia, Utopia, Adaptation


Since time immemorial art has been a significant impetus in stirring up people’s conscience towards critical thinking, cryptic political narratives, social issues and new human perspectives. Art enlightens society about socio-political realities and their relationship with them. Art does not get involved directly in any political scenario specific to a country or part, rather it employs subtle semiotics specific to each type like literature, paintings, films etc to convey its message.

Dystopia as a theme across the different arts is one example of contemporary political-cultural environment. Famous literary novels like The Time Machine, A Clock-wise Orange, The Handmaid’s Tale, Neuromancer, 1984 etc were not unrealistic settings for the sake of entertaining reader but they are purposely written to apprise the reader to the dystopic tendencies of any political regime, society and institution. These dystopic novels have inspired other arts as well, particularly, the cinema. Critically acclaimed movies like Blade Runner, Children of Men, Snowpiercer and Gatacca are examples of various kinds of dystopic presentation in cinema with wide range of topics like human replication, post-war ridden societies unable to reproduce, failed experiments, robotic behaviour, results of genetic experiments etc.

Apart from these famous mediums, there are less famous artistic expressions which have dealt with dystopic theme in their own style and have not only brought up new dimensions to this thematic area but have helped reader to interact with the new stylistic media tools and techniques.

Graphic novels have for example with their emerging popularity in literature classrooms have engaged with dystopia to produce some excellent award winning dystopic graphic novels. This research paper refers to one of them,V for Vendatta, written and illustrated by Alan Moore and david lloyd with the help of other artists specialised in their field. The graphic novel describes future post apocalyptic, post nuclear war and futuristic history of united kingdom with the prevalent Nordic supremacy and fascist police state.

Graphic novels have comics as their predecessor, which were considered to be containing either juvenile content or vulgar content and even though many comic artist have tried to venture into high art or literary expression in them, but the name ‘comic’ would never let them come out of the image. Also comics has appropriated affixed clichéd image of superhero which later on was relooked by graphic novel, whose emergence as a genre was due to the shift from ‘petty’ to ‘serious’ and due to the efforts by comic artists who were aiming at adult readership and tried naming their picto-fiction art as ‘sequential art’ or ‘graphic novel’.

The superhero figure was rehashed by new age artists, especially when the superhero genre has always been difficult to reconcile with the world of typical dystopic fiction. In a traditional and popular dystopic fiction of Anthony Burgess, George Orwell, Yevgeny Zamyatin, et al, there is a politically and socially totalitarian regime taking control of people’s lives and minds and even if there is any resisting voice or powerful person, who seems powerful initially, is ultimately suppressed by the parochial forces, by their methodological practices like thoughpolice, thoughcrime, et al. (Orwell) Therefore, the superhero genre is difficult to fit in a textbook  definition of dystopia. However, with the deconstruction in the supremacist attitude towards traditional genres (novels and plays), the emergence of new age genres like graphic novels paved the way for the reconstruction of the idea of dystopia. This exploration in thematic aspects of dystopia not only allowed the superhero genre to integrate with it, but also let the superhero genre to itself depart from its clichéd manifestation and to explore its new dimensions.

The graphic novel “V for Vendetta” taken by this research paper appropriately exemplifies it. It has made its protagonist not an overarching villain or a resisting dissenter, who is eventually overpowered by the authoritarian regime, but it presents a superhero figure who is a mysterious vigilante and leads meticulously planned anarchy at multiple levels to topple the totalitarian government. The graphic novel does not present a traditional dystopic setting of utter despair in the face of omnipresent government surveillance and brutal control, as in the case of classic literary works from this genre, like “1984”, “Catch 22”, et al, where any possibility of dissent is eventually suppressed and there is no redemption possible. “V for Vendetta”, rather, employs its title character ‘V’ to systematically formulate his own machinery to counter the prevailing fascist regime. Also, the character of ‘V’ departs from his traditional counterpart of superhero myth because a superhero usually wears a cape, or a mask or a costume to establish its differentiation in identity along with the hiding of its original persona, which rarely holds any semiotic significance in association with the superhero’s character or ideology. However, ‘V’, in “V for Vendetta”, uses Guy Fakwes’ mask to hide his face, due to the historical significance of the legend of Guy Fawkes behind it. Guy Fawkes was the revolutionary behind the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, in which he tried to blow up the Parliament of London, which was the symbol of British Authority. Therefore, the mask of Guy Fawkes symbolizes rebellion, subversion and anarchy. The superhero figure ‘V’ wittingly used Guy Fawkes’ mask and legend to import significance to his purpose by using its historicity.

In addition to this, unlike most of the superhero figures, he does not have any supernatural powers and is very much human. He uses knowledge from different fields like, philosophy, literature, politics, technology and digital counter intelligence to build the foundation of his insurrection. He does have some enhanced physical attributes like quick reactions, extreme tolerance for pain, durability, et al, because he was the lone survivor of a program which conducted experiments on humans with repeated dosages of unknown chemicals.

‘V’ also differs from a conventional superhero as he refuses to adhere to any conventional dichotomy of right and wrong, whereas a superhero is inevitably expected to follow the most righteous path. Rather, his character exhibits an ambiguous and ambitious approach towards morals. He saves Evey like a hero, but he tortures her in a solitary cell to achieve a ‘higher goal’. His methods are radical and anarchist. He plans to bring down a fascist, Norsefire government, which through its all pervading surveillance system, rules over people through fear and intimidation. V’s purpose is of a revolutionary, but he kills multiple people, innocent and guilty both, while executing his plan. He justifies these killings and atrocities (which were termed ‘terrorism’ by the state) for the ‘ultimate freedom’. Therefore, unlike a traditional and ethically upright superhero, V’s character remains double edged and arguable in terms of morality.

However, this path of violence is the deviation which imparts distinction to the dystopic narrative of “V for Vendetta”. In popular works of dystopic fiction like “1984”, the main characters Julia and Winston, exhibit their dissent by breaking the rules of authority. They are giving their true uncompromised opinions against the government but are not actively doing anything to put this dissent into action. On the other hand, ‘V’, in “V for Vendetta”, devices methods equally potent and violent, to counter a totalitarian Norsefire government. The government has vast surveillance control inside and outside of people’s homes in the veil of protecting them. The propaganda machinery is called the ‘Voice of Fate’, in which ‘Fate’ is the supercomputer, electronically spying on citizens. The government has patrolling units and secret police, which rather than protecting civilians, keeps a check on them, to prevent them from exercising free will thereby denying basic liberties and civil rights to the citizens. They punish anyone, anywhere, without any trial or justification. Therefore, people who have passively been interpolated (write in footnotes) with time due to preference of state for compliant citizens and punishment of differing humans like encampment of black people, persecution of homosexuals and political dissenters. The gruesome post World War III narrative of dystopic Norsefire regime is not just the writer’s imagination or a flight of fancy, rather, it draws from the historical context of Volkskörper in Nazi Germany. It was originated from the romantic idea of Völkisch of the cultural concentration of one race, and it soon flared into the removal of anything which differed from it. The government used every possible method to eliminate Jews, homosexuals, eunuchs and political dissidents. Most importantly, people at many levels cooperated with the Nazi Party to execute this ideology, just the way people under the Norsefire regime complied with their government, thereby making the narrative very realistic in nature. Primo Lavie says, “We cannot understand it, but we must understand from where it springs, and we must be on our guard. If understanding is impossible, knowing is imperative, because what happened could happen again. Conscience can be seduced and obscured again – even our consciences.”. ‘The Seducing of Conscience’ of people does not happen magically or overnight, it is with the help of interpolation that an institution achieves it. It is done by ‘Ideological State Appratuses’ (ISA) like schools, government offices and courts to generate and reinforce and ideology with the help of discourse and ritual. Another counterpart of it is ‘Repressive State Apparatuses’ (RSA), that is by direct law and order. For Louis Althusser, this establishment of interpolation by ISA and RSA is the hailing of an ideology as a subconscious process. Therefore, V’s rebellion is not restricted to topple the authoritarian government and take revenge from people who tortured him for his dissenting views, rather, he wishes to create a significant ripple in the resting pond of indifferent Norsefire citizenry. In the very beginning of the graphic novel, ‘V’ meets Evey Hammond, whose mother had died in riots and father was detained in a resettlement camp because of his revolutionary ideology. She, being vulnerable and lonely tries to turn to prostitution and is trapped by patrolling Fingermen in the streets after curfew, who rather than protecting her, try to rape her. ‘V; comes to her rescue with the help of his counter surveillance and with the deliberate purpose of choosing her as an appropriate candidate to engage her in his plans. He takes her into an underground shadow gallery, where he reveals his revolutionary and anarchist purpose. Evey is impressed by his plan, but is ethically against the killing involved in it. So, ‘V’ frees her for participating in his plots, but soon after she is out in the fascist regime, she faces the death of her lover by a criminal gang. Immediately after, she is abducted in a place which seems to be a resettlement camp and is subject to intense mental and physical torture. Here, she discovers emotionally moving letters from what seems to be a fellow prison mate. She eventually learns  that it was done by ‘V’, to make her understand the depth of torture perpetrated by the fascist regime and to elevate her strength to face her in an equally potent, even valorous manner. According to ‘V’, this was the only way, in which he could liberate her from her fears.

Therefore, to shake the citizens from their complacency, ‘V’ starts with the most ideal character Evey. He not only stirred her conscience but turned her into one of his own kind. Then ‘V’ does the same to Inspector Finch, who is asked by the government to investigate ‘V’. He is half Irish and is not considered to be from the pure Nordic race. He is partially alienated from many supremacist party members and is constantly asked to prove his loyalty. ‘V’ takes off the veil of deception of many fascist institutions of the government, which has been pretending to be citizen friendly. He, in the disguise of William Rookwood, tells Finch about the government’s experiments with Bio Weapons and its failure, following which, Sutler, the then Under Secretary of Military, released the deadly virus in schools, railway stations and the water supplies, resulting in the death of 100,000 British citizens. The ensuing wave of panic and fear was used by Sutler to promise security and to ultimately come to power as the Chancellor. ‘V’ shakes Fink’s faith in the sanctity of the government and gets him to his side to take significant help to perform his final goal. Apart from these two characters, ‘V’ sets out to shake the conscience of an indifferent and compliant citizenry of the Norsefire regime. He uses extra ordinary rhetoric to do it. After bombing Old Bailley, which was an important symbol of government control and authority, he interrupts the broadcast and takes responsibility for the destruction, inciting people to break away from the authoritarian control and to come out against the government. He chants, “Remember remember the fifth of November..”, to remind people of their power and the need for revolution. He urges them to participate in his mission to free them by meeting him outside the Parliament on Guy Fawkes’ night, that is, the fifth of November. Alan Moore and David Lloyd have used the symbolism of Guy Fawkes effectively to lend the dramatic element and historicity to V’s speech in which he says, “And it’s no good blaming the drop in work standards upon bad management, either … though, to be sure, the management is very bad. […] But who elected them? It was you! You who appointed these people! You who gave them the power to make your decisions for you! […] All you had to do is say “no”. You have no spine. You have no pride. You are no longer an asset to the company. I will however be generous. You will be granted two years to show me some improvement in your work. If at the time you are still unwilling to make a go of it … you’re fired.”. Both the graphic novel artists have not restricted themselves to the Guy Fawkes legend, but have made use of intertextuality in a compelling and powerful manner. ‘V’ quotes lines from a song of a popular band called the Rolling Stones, when he encounters the paedophilic Bishop Lilliman. The lines ‘V’ quotes are as follows, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”. Therefore, V’s planned anarchy is directed at multiple levels. He uses counter surveillance to execute his schemes at Physical and Ideological level. He not only resorts to violence to distort every parochial institution and killing every man responsible in the setting up of such a regime, but he also resorts to literature, counter cultures and marginalized beings, to bring awareness to the people of Norsefire, who had been gradually and strategically hegemonized by the totalitarian-fascist regime. He physically demolishes the sources and symbols of hegemony and ideologically rips it out from the minds of people by reminding them that “They are Him” and that ‘He’ is one of ‘Them’.



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