“Remember, remember! The fifth of November, The Gunpowder treason and plot; I know of no reason Why the Gunpowder treason Should ever be forgot!”
The 5th of November, 2020 marks the 415th anniversary of the Gunpowder Treason orchestrated by the radical Catholics to blow up the House of the Lords. It also marks the 23rd anniversary of the blowing up of the House of Parliament and the Big Ben in Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s “V for Vendetta”.
Alan Moore, in his introduction to the graphic novel, “V for Vendetta”, mentions that the dystopia arose out of his and David Lloyd’s “political pessimism”. The story is an aftermath of the win of the Labour Party in the 1983 elections in the UK. UK’s refusal to house the US’s nuclear weapons, prevents them from being part of the nuclear warfare, and thus the country escapes from being destroyed the way the US, USSR and Africa are. Fascists, in the form of the fictional Norsefire party, soon take hold of the nation, wreaking havoc.
The book draws inspiration from several historical events. The most notable of all is that the titular character V is a reinvention of Guy Fawkes (of the Gunpowder Treason). This is made evident right from the start, when V blows up the Parliament, while reciting the “Remember, Remember” poem written about Guy Fawkes (and his compatriots’) failed attempt to do exactly the same. It is also written as a consequence of the cold war (reflected in the imagined World War III) between the US and USSR, which at the time of writing of the novel, was at its peak. Further, the Norsefire Party is an (arguably) far-reaching representation of a conservative, homophobic, racist regime and can be seen as an extreme mirroring of the Reagen administration in America and the Thatcher administration in the UK at the time. Both governments were notoriously indifferent to the demographies deemed to oppose “traditional values”, such as feminists, socialists, and racially diverse groups (essentially, anyone who wasn’t a cis-het white man). This was especially evident during the AIDS epidemic, when neither government provided sufficient funding for AIDS research, principally because it mostly affected homosexuals and those belonging to the non-white races.
The main idea that the creators explore (and Alan Moore criticises the 2006 movie for blatantly ignoring) is the dichotomy of anarchism and fascism. “Anarchy means “without leaders”, not “without order”” V explains to Evey. He wants to overthrow the fascist government and replace it with anarchy, to free the people from societal bonds and let them control themselves. Although the character takes on the name “V” after the number of the room that he was in while at the Larkhill Resettlement Camp, his actions aren’t for the sake of vengeance against his torture. It goes far beyond that. He becomes the face of revolution.
A big question that the book dares to ask is ‘When is a revolution justified?’ How does one identify when a disobedience is good? Where do we draw the line between terrorism and revolution? Many critique that the novel glorifies terrorism. However, Moore deliberately made V’s actions “very, very morally ambiguous” with the aim that “I didn’t want to tell people what to think, I just wanted to tell people to think.”
A big inference to draw from the book is that V is not just a person but an idea. As he is about to die, he tells his killer, “Did you think to kill me? There’s no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill. There’s only an idea. Ideas are bulletproof.” At the end of the day, V is an image for revolution, one that Evey continues to carry on, even after his death, and one that continues to exist to the present day. The Guy Fawkes mask that V very famously adorns, has become a symbol for resistance and revolution, around the world. It often makes appearances during protests, and has also been adopted by the very famous Internet hactivist group “Anonymous”.
Although it uses a political dystopian narrative to do so, “V for Vendetta” uses its anti-hero to send an important message. It claims that idleness and apathy are responsible for the poor state of a nation and urges people to be politically aware. People need to speak out and hold their governments accountable.