As V dramatically proclaims his monologue, all of the reader’s attention is fixed on the character’s passion. As the story progresses, the plot evolves, conflicts form and resolve, and the devoted reader finishes the work touting his triumphant recognition of the book’s themes. Although confident in his understanding of the work, the reader has missed the most comprehensive symbol of the work’s message: a discarded book in the background of the scene.
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd is a rich graphic novel chock full of allusions to other works. It is a testament to the storytelling power of Moore that V for Vendetta transcends the “comic” norm of a superficial action story. Instead, the novel includes a range of deep messages, including the conflict between fascist totalitarianism and anarchy and questions of true purpose and identity. The medium of V for Vendetta allows for a new dimension of storytelling that most works of literature ignore, mainly the use of pictures hybridized with text. The visual aspect creates a multitude of hiding spots for Moore to place clues as to the deeper themes of the work. Unlike classical literature, allusions are not always explicitly stated in text, and therefore require a whole new type of intentional awareness by the reader for their discovery in pictures. This essay hopes to show that, if done well, allusions can not only supplement the text in an aesthetic role, but also can add to a deeper representation of larger literary themes. Careful attention to these alluded references can provide a reader with a more developed understanding of the main message of the text.
Literary allusions are key tools authors use to reference other literary works, cultural instances, or historical events within the body of a text. Allusions carry a particular weight in literary analysis because, like any symbol, they are placed in a work intentionally for a reason. Published criticisms studying both the symbolic meaning and the author's purpose for including allusions in literature have lead to new conclusions on the works' major themes. In "Musical Allusions in the Works of James Joyce: Early Poetry Through Ulysses," Bowen describes how references to music reveals new insights about the characters of Ulysses. Bowen cites "(Mozart's Don Giovanni) is inextricably bound to the action of the book both thematically and in the mind of the protagonist, Leopold Bloom." In this case, investigation of the allusions in Ulysses by Bowen has lead to new insight into the author's message of the notoriously difficult work. Bowen agrees; "music provides a new dimension to Joyce's works not immediately available to those readers who lack Joyce's knowledge of Irish folk music..." (Bowen 3). Bowen also elaborates on the implication, in term's of the author's purpose, in inserting an allusion within a text. "So careful an author as Joyce," Bowen says, " places little or no extraneous material in his text, and so the very volume of musical references dictates the significant contribution they make to his works"(Bowen 4). Harris' critical piece "The Thematic Importance of Skelton's Allusion to Horace in Magnyfyence" has a similar message about the role of allusion study in literary interpretation. Harris cites "But having followed even this far the avenue opened by the allusion to Horace, surely we must agree that it is not 'a mere chance quotation' but a traditional gloss pointing to the doctrine which forms the heart of (Skelton's) play" (Harris 11). Both Bowen and Skelton agree that allusions hold a special place in the critical analysis of literary works.
The medium of the V for Vendetta graphic novel includes very little text when compared to a standard literary novel. All text that is included, therefore, is concisely and purposefully crafted. Like Joyce and Skelton, Moore does not randomly include allusions with no importance by virtue of the fact that so little can be represented by words in the graphic novel. In this respect, the allusions in the text act like an archetypes in themselves,immediately representing ideas that would take considerable length to explain. Moore's efforts to create a complex work, therefore, are aided by the use of these symbols for efficiency of communicating V for Vendetta's themes.
Moore’s first allusion comes in the first pages of V for Vendetta. In the scene, Evey, a main protagonist, approaches a shady man on an urban street and offers to prostitute herself in exchange for money. The man turns out to be a member of the “Fingermen” undercover police force (representative of the SS detectives of Hitler’s Nazi regime). Immediately, more evil “Fingermen” are recruited to the scene with malicious intentions to rape and murder Evey. “V,” a masked hero, appears from the shadows, announcing in a dramatic voice “The multiplying villainies of nature do swarm upon him” (Moore 11). It is no mistake that V’s first line in the entire novel is borrowed from the Macbeth, one of William Shakespeare's most famous dramas. V continues to quote the famous tragedy as he billows smoke from his sleeve and carves up the evil henchmen of Britain's totalitarian regime.
The passage V cited from Macbeth includes several examples of foreshadowing not only to future events in the novel, but also to some of the messages Moore intended to convey. V announces in the panels seen below “and fortune, on his damned quarrel, smiling, showed like a rebel’s whore…but all’s too weak for brave Macbeth…well he deserves that name” (Moore 12). In the context of the scene, V represents Macbeth, the brave future king of Scotland who likewise succumbs to a death pre-determined by fate. Although Macbeth's death and V's death are a result of different attitudes (Macbeth's ambition versus V's freedom through anarchy), the theme of fate is a focus of both works. For V for Vendetta, the idea of fate represented in Macbeth can connect both to the currently grim fate of England under the fascist regimes and V's own impending death at the end of the novel. V’s statement reflects his defiance towards determinism, his refusal to let England continue down a road of despotic governance and denial of human rights. V proclaims “disdaining fortune, with his brandish steel, which smoked with blood execution” (Moore 12) in order to hint at his future plans for changing England’s path through violence. When V meets and touches Evey for the first time, he continues, saying “Till he faced the slave; which ne’er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him” (Moore 12). One of the major character evolutions in V for Vendetta is the transformation of Evey from a naive, dependent child confined by worry into a defiant women free of fear. The isolated allusion from Macbeth describes V’s future mentoring of Evey; his role of freeing her from her “slavery,” or subservience to the laws of the government and the constraints of poverty. In addition, the allusion references the fact that Evey will never “(bay) farwell to (V),” since V will perish towards the end of the novel before Evey formally says goodbye or even touches him (“Ne’re shook hands..”).
Macbeth helps Moore to represent a few key themes in "V for Vendetta" without launching into lengthy explanations to produce the same effect. In this sense, the allusion allows the reader to immediately get a sense of the theme of fate in determining the novel's events. The quote plays an aesthetic role in V's entrance, setting a tone of excitement and grandiosity with elevated old-English language. If the reader considers not only the content of the allusion, but also Moore's purpose in including Macbeth when he does, one can gain a new awareness towards the master plan behind the first scene set.
In Evey’s introduction to V’s home, V shows her the Library and plays for her “Dancing in the street” by Martha and the Vandellas. He simply calls the song a “Tamla Motown” song and moves on. While it is quickly glossed over in the dialogue, "Dancing in the street" is a conceptually perfect fit for V’s and Evey’s discussion—the culture that has been destroyed by England’s government. Sung by African American women and a jubilant celebration of youth culture and free expression, it was an obvious target for eradication by the racist, fear mongering government that rules in V for Vendetta. While there are scores of songs that would fit this description, “Dancing in the Street” is particularly appropriate because of its historical association with violent revolution. Starting in Detroit during their 1963 concert, Martha and the Vandellas’ hit song virtually became a civil rights anthem to social change. In her book, Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit, Suzanne Smith tells how the group had to abandon a series of concerts, starting with Detroit’s due to riots or the presence of and possible violence from militant black nationalist leaders. Shortly after, a British journalist suggested that the song was a call to riot. In this way, “Dancing in the Street” became the headlining act of the music produced in Detroit’s politically and racially charged environment. Smith goes on to recount public figures calling Motown songs as “weapons” for racial equality. Radio stations banned the song for fear that its message would create uprisings in African American communities. The public interpretation of “Dancing in the Street” became "Rioting in the Street" against an ideal that restricted personal freedoms and equality, a riot that of which V would be proud. Just as the use of Macbeth foreshadows V’s and Evey’s fates, Moore’s use of “Dancing in the Street” subtly suggests that the future holds riots for social freedom and a people violently approaching that which demeans them.
After her rescue from the Fingermen and throughout the first half of the novel, Evey hides from the world in V’s lair, avoiding contact with the danger of V’s efforts to combat the English fascist regime. The childish nature of Evey is symbolized by Moore by his allusion to the text The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. Moore sets a scene with V sitting next to Evey’s sleeping frame as soft hues of yellow light contrast against the black shadows of a child’s bedroom. V reads to Evey from The Faraway Tree;“ ‘Let’s dig an enormous castle!’ cried Moon-Face. ‘Then we can all sit on the top of it when the sea comes in’ ” (Moore 68). The Faraway Tree is a series of childrens' books written from 1939-1951 by Enid Blyton, a famous British writer whose over 700 books has made many call her the most successful British children’s book author ever to have written (Rudder 10). The story of The Faraway Tree is one of coziness and fantasy. In the book, children climb a gigantic magical tree with branches penetrating the heavens. One of the more subtle themes of the book, and the most pertinent to understanding V for Vendetta involves the idea of change. The children to return to a different magical land every time they climb the tree because each kingdom “moves on.” As V reads, “Yes, said silky, but it’s time we went back to the Faraway Tree. This land will soon be moving on-and as nice as it is, we don’t want to live here forever” (Moore 68). Although not explicitly stated in the quote, the The Faraway Tree is about adapting to changing conditions and growing up, two actions that Evey eventually begins to undertake after the scene with her transformation at the hands of V. In effect, the increasing height of the Faraway Tree, as well as the Tree's ambitions for growing even taller symbolize Evey's branching out in depth and substance as a character. In the beginning of the novel, Evey is a scared one-dimensional character. By the end of V for Vendetta, Evey is depicted as a complex, rational adult because of Moore's efforts to expand on her character complexity as the novel progresses. In terms of the book's theme of anarchy versus totalitarianism, the allusion includes an emphasis on the passage “Isn’t this THE LAND OF DO-AS-YOU-PLEASE.” With this quote, Moore references the armed revolution of V; the allusion supports the novel's imperative of overthrowing despotic government.
One of the most pivotal points in the text is Evey’s escape from her reliance on others for protection and emotional support. In the first half of the novel, Evey continually voices her suspicion that V is her biological father. In the scene, V blindfolds the confused Evey, ordering her to follow him from the comfort of his layer to the outside world. Evey finds herself alone on a deserted street outside the lair. V stands with his back facing Evey, cites the same quote from The Faraway Tree read in the earlier bedroom scene. Eventually, V ends the passage with a dramatic “I’m not your father Evey. Your father is dead” (Moore 99-100). Evey, horrified, pleads for V “to take me home,” in an effort to escape her pain and fear sheltered behind V’s doors (Moore 100). Evey grabs V, only to find that the image of V talking to her is really an elaborate costume and tape-recorder. The frame pans out to show Evey in the middle of a desolate, lonely scene. The allusion to The Faraway Tree marks a major turning point for Evey because she is thrust from V's sheltered protection out into the real world, starting a progression of maturity leading to her enlightenment. The timing also marks the beginning of the last time V calls her Evey; after her rain re-birth, she is known as “Eve.” The Faraway Tree is a symbol of childhood innocence, dependence and naivete. The allusion is important for describing the maturity of Evey, also changing the novel's main protagonist spotlight from V to Evey. In addition the allusion highlights one of the book's major messages of changing the status quo, not hiding from it.
When reading the graphic novel V for Vendetta one cannot help but notice the use of a rose by V after the murder of one of his victims(word choice). The rose that V uses in the novel is called a Violet Carson and many readers do not even think about the importance and implications this rose can have other than maybe just accepting that it is a rose that starts with the letter V. If this were the case though one would think Moore would use the Vendetta rose. However, the Violet Carson has a much deeper purpose in the novel. Violet Carson is actually a famous British actress whom the rose was named after in 1965. Violet Carson played a beloved character on the soap opera “Coronation Street” from 1960 to 1980 and the show still runs today being the longest running soap opera in England. Through this role Violet Carson became a household name throughout Britain. Violet Carson plays the role of Ena Sharples in “Coronation Street” who is a key member of the community and was a caretaker at the Glad Tidings Mission Hall and then later the Street’s Community Center. Ena Sharples was the self-proclaimed moral voice of the show and this is where we understand the choice for using the rose in the graphic novel. The rose, therefore, represents both a tribute to the famed actress that passed away in 1983 and a representation of V's morality. V uses this rose on his victims who have done harm not only to him but countless others and V is considered taking moral action based upon the crimes that these people have committed. In the novel V portrays a moral voice and by using this rose and understanding the implications behind the Violet Carson rose helps the reader understand its correlation to V's past of Larkhill and his desire to punish those who have caused harm in the past. This allusion not only serves as an allusion outside the novel but also within it once the reader finds out the purpose behind the use of the Violet Carson rose.
Another key part of the novel is V’s pattern itself. V’s pattern is a circle with a V in it. Even though the circle in the V for Vendetta symbol is not an allusion it still holds a greater implication than just the image itself. The symbol itself is extremely similar to the symbol for anarchy, just upside down and without the cross in the A. The circle A anarchist symbol is thought to of become the better known symbol for anarchy because its simple design is easy to graffiti. The V for Vendetta symbol is also frequently scene throughout the novel graffitied on walls and posters.The variation of the anarchist symbol makes sense as this is the role that V is taking against the fascist British government. Alan Moore the author in an interview stated that a motivator for this graphic novel was that he was upset with the English government in the 1980's under Margaret Thatcher so he decided to write novel based in his own country. Moore also stated, "Well I suppose I first got involved in radical politics as a matter of course, during the late 1960s when it was a part of the culture. The counterculture, as we called it then, was very eclectic and all embracing. It included fashions of dress, styles of music, philosophical positions, and, inevitably, political positions. And although there would be various political leanings coming to the fore from time to time, I suppose that the overall consensus political standpoint was probably an anarchist one. Although probably back in those days, when I was a very young teenager, I didn’t necessarily put it into those terms." Alan Moore's graphic novel V for Vendetta has strong ties to anarchism and this can be the reason behind the similarities between V's symbol and the circle A symbol for anarchy. Having an understanding of what the Anarchism symbol implies can also provide a more clear message of what V's symbol is representative of throughout the novel.
V Symbol Anarchist Symbol
Another allusion to identity in the graphic novel and film is the historical allusion to Guy Fawkes and the use of the mask to hide one’s identity. V for Vendetta explores the concept of identity greatly. One key concept based on the use of the mask is to show that hiding one’s identity can help get past only visuals and get to ideas which are what is truly important. V’s identity is more based on the ideas he embodies than what he looks like. The novel is expressing that perhaps we put too much value into looks and not enough into ideas. Also the mask allows us to see V as anyone because we see V’s ideas and attach these ideas to the Guy Fawkes masks that he wears. By us seeing V as anyone so does the Norsefire and this masking of identity also serves as protection. The fact that the mask is made to look like Guy Fawkes also has its own implications. Guy Fawkes is famous for a failed gunpowder plot on November 5, 1605 this date has become a national holiday in England. The fact that V embodies Guy Fawkes only adds to the stories themes of revolution and rebellion. It also adds to V’s purpose himself to recreate the failed gunpowder plot in modern day when the fascist government of Britain gains too much control. By examining this historical allusion and understanding the history of Guy Fawkes one can come across a complete understanding of many of the films major concepts. A key verse from the holiday:
This leads back to the theme of identity and how V’s identity is his idea and not his actual appearance. This verse shows the importance of the idea and how ideas can last forever. V wishes to convey the idea that the government should work for its people instead of controlling its people. The use of Guy Fawkes adds to this idea because the government is made for the people and when the people become unhappy with it they have the power to take matters into their own hands as Guy Fawkes and several other men did when they were unhappy with the treatment of Catholics under King James I. This quote is also refers to a quote by Thomas Jefferson, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” This concept of fear is ever present in V for Vendetta and it is pointed out and emphasized that fear is used as a ploy for control and that people need to question these controls. The allusion to Guy Fawkes enables us to get this key concept that one should not be afraid to stand up for their beliefs against a tyrannical government because the purpose of the government is to serve the people. By exploring and understanding this allusion one understands the value of identity and its meaning throughout the novel.
A large part of V for Vendetta's complexity results from instances where Moore gave the work a specific cultural context. Alan Moore enriched the novel's themes and enforced its characters by including historical and cultural allusions that represent, in themselves, the messages of the text. The use of Macbeth in the opening scene introduces the role of fate in V for Vendetta, foreshadowing future events that will shape the character development of V and Evey. A subtle background song, "Dancing in the Street," even in its jovility, suggests a future imperative for social revolt based on its historical context. One passage from a famous British children's book, The Faraway Tree, is used to represent maturation and positive change, detailing the growth of Evey from naive youth to defiant activist. In addition, background elements; the continual use of a famous revolutionary's face, allusion to the anarchy flag and a flower allusion to a famous actress, help to give V for Vendetta a new richness in detail and depth. As the paper has shown, awareness as to the significance of these allusions can help realize the outside influences on the work and the messages Moore wants to convey. Continued study and application of this method of studying background allusions can provide both the casual reader and the hardened scholar with an enhanced understanding of the text.
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