WATCHMEN: The Psychology of Rorschach

The only things I  knew about Watchmen before cracking it open were: “superheroes kind of” and “who watches the watchmen?” Needless to say, I didn’t really know what to expect. I certainly did not expect to be pulled in by compelling artwork, rounded characters, and an impressive plot in the way that I currently am. While Watchmen is literally bursting with complicated characters and intriguing plot-lines, I find myself continually pulled into a singular one: that of Rorschach. From the first chapter when we see him brooding over the city, a visual demonstration of the metaphoric distance between him and society, I was hooked: who the hell is this guy?


The development of Rorschach’s character occurs the way many developments in the novel do: with minimal information at first, and a more thorough explanation later on. This approach is demonstrated in how the Keene Act is presented- first through offhand mention by the characters in the opening chapter, and then explained as legislation that outlawed vigilantism through Dr. Manhattan’s strange time-experience sequence in chapter four. This style is also used in the  presentation of Dr. Manhattan’s character; the audience  knows  from early on in the novel that he is somehow superhuman, but an explanation of how he came to be that way isn’t made available until the fourth chapter. In terms of Rorschach, we see him initially at face (mask?)-value. He’s a detached vigilante figure with a knack for breaking into “friends’” apartments and scribbling in his journal  about his quests for answers and the filth that is humanity. It’s not until much later, chapter six, that we get a good look at Rorschach.

I think I  am so drawn to the enigma that is Rorschach because of his complicated psychology. Before the book gets into his history, it’s evidenced that Rorschach considers his vigilante identity to be more real than his civilian identity- particularly when Rorschach refers to his mask as his “face.” (I find this detail to be particularly haunting- if he removing his  “face,” what is it that is underneath? vulnerable flesh? ew/wow.) The audience gets more details on this facet of Rorschach’s psychology when he’s speaking with Dr. Malcom Long and becomes frustrated that Mal addresses him as Kovacs. In the same chapter, we see Kovacs’ unmasked face and can connect him with the man carrying the “End Is Nigh” sign seen sporadically throughout the book- it can be assumed that this figure is what Rorschach considers his “disguise” (given that he views his true personality to be Rorschach the vigilante).


(Note here the juxtaposition of Rorschach and Kovacs in the final 2 panels)

Rorschach is also intriguing in his concepts about morality. This is where I find myself getting wrapped up and confused and by the intricacies of his character. Rorschach’s opinion of humanity is clearly informed by his early childhood experiences with violence and immorality, but the development of his moral philosophy is deeply interesting. It seems Rorschach reached a turning point when he murdered the dogs and the kidnapper of a small girl. Rorschach comes to the realization that conventional morality cannot stand up to the evils of the world- and that one is within their power to create their own morality. However, if Rorschach’s morality includes seeking out and eliminating villians- why does he even bother if he’s under the impression that humanity is dismal and doomed anyway? Rorschach to me is a confusing, complicated character in that I can’t quite get a handle on the way he thinks (obviously Dr. Long can’t either)- and this is one of the things keeping me voraciously devouring the book. I find myself wondering: why is Rorschach given such a central role? What roles will he play later in the novel? Will the plot simply move on without him now that he’s incarcerated? I doubt it.

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