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Watchmen | Chapter 5 : Fearful Symmetry | Summary

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Summary

Rorschach breaks into Moloch's apartment again, this time to learn more about the list of names Moloch mentioned during Rorschach's previous visit. He stuffs Moloch into the refrigerator to pressure him into divulging the details, but Moloch doesn't know anything. Rorschach releases him and tells him how to make contact in case he remembers anything.

Detectives Steven Fine and Joe Bourquin investigate a double homicide/suicide involving a father who killed his two daughters in front of his wife. He was supposedly worried about nuclear war. At the newsstand, the news vendor is talking about how the "goddamn war's screwing everything up" as the black teenager reads the second issue of The Black Freighter. Across town, Adrian Veidt is on his way to a meeting about his action figure line when an unknown assailant shoots his assistant. Veidt grabs a gold stanchion and deflects the bullet meant for him and then uses it to beat his would-be assassin, who bites down on a cyanide capsule before Veidt can find out who sent him.

Rorschach is watching his drop-spot from a table at the Gunga Diner. He sees Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Juspeczyk leave a nearby restaurant together, and he wonders if Laurie is the masked killer. He is soon distracted by a note from Moloch at the drop-spot, imploring Rorschach to meet at Moloch's apartment later that night. Rorschach retrieves his costume, including his "face," from a nearby alley.

Laurie and Dan go to Dan's house. Laurie is no longer allowed to live in the research facility since Dr. Manhattan left Earth, and Dan has offered to let her stay with him. Grateful, she tells Dan he's "like a big brother" to her. She has no idea he's falling in love with her.

Rorschach goes to Moloch's at the appointed time only to find Moloch dead, a bullet hole in his forehead. The meeting is a trap—the police have been tipped off and they're waiting outside for Rorschach, whom they've wanted to catch for years. As police officers barrel into the house, Rorschach makes a flamethrower out of some kitchen supplies. He manages to escape the officers inside the apartment, but he can't escape the flames. He jumps out the window. The officers below surround him and rip off his mask. "No! My face! Give it back!" he yells. The chapter ends with the first stanza of British writer and artist William Blake's poem "The Tyger" (1794).

Analysis

The end of Chapter 5 reveals what the reader may have already guessed: the Doomsday Prophet is actually Rorschach out of disguise. Or, more aptly, the Doomsday Prophet is Rorschach's disguise. While other costumed crime fighters put on their vigilante personas only after dark, Rorschach's primary identity is that of Rorschach. None of his "colleagues" know his real first or last names, and nobody recognizes him without the mask. The mask is key here. Rorschach consistently refers to it as his "face," and when the police pull it off he screams for them to give it back. All the elements of Rorschach's costume make him feel more like himself than his human face ever could. As he puts on his gloves and hat in the alley, he reflects about how they make him "free from fear or weakness or lust." Wearing these clothes makes him feel morally superior to the rest of the population and gives him a sense of invincibility. When he is caught and the mask is removed, he is subject to the failings of human nature once more.

The dual sides of human nature are called into question by William Blake's "The Lamb" (1789) and "The Tyger." In both poems the unnamed narrator quizzes the animal in question about who made them. The poems are generally interpreted as representing the two natures of humankind: the "meek and mild" lamb and the tiger with burning eyes. Did one entity make them both? "The Tyger" is the darker and more forceful of the two poems with allusions to the Greek god Prometheus, the winged Icarus who flew too close to the sun, and Satan himself. Some scholars interpret these allusions as references to rebellion. That certainly fits the tone of Chapter 5, in which Adrian is attacked and Rorschach is captured in a blaze of flames. Neither of them goes quietly—Adrian nearly beats the assassin to death with a gold stanchion, and Rorschach screams for his "face" as blood streams across his lips. They are rebelling against societal forces trying in vain to subdue their strength.

Chapter 5's title, "Fearful Symmetry," isn't just a reference to "The Tyger,"—it also describes the structure of the chapter itself. "Symmetry" is when two parts facing each other on an axis are the same; for example, if a line is drawn down the middle of a circle, the parts on either side of the line are mirror representations of each other. Alan Moore structured Chapter 5 so the second half of the chapter is the "reverse image" of the first. It begins with Rorschach and Moloch, then jumps to the police detectives, then to the newsstand, then to Laurie and Dan, then to Rorschach, then back to the newsstand, and then to Adrian. Adrian kills the would-be assassin. The story goes back to the newsstand, to Rorschach, to Laurie and Dan, the newsstand again, the police detectives, and then back to where it began with Rorschach and Moloch. The scene in which Adrian bashes the head of the assassin is the story's center. It's also the center spread of the chapter itself. In the center spread (pages 14 and 15 as numbered in the illustrations), the design of the right page mirrors the design on the left. Flipping one page back and one page forward, holding the center pages together, readers can see page 13 has a double-width cell at the top right and page 16 has a double-width cell at the top left. Those two pages are symmetrical. Leafing backward and forward through the chapter, the symmetry continues. It's a masterful example of the careful attention Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons applied to every aspect of the book.

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