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Watchmen | Chapter 6 : The Abyss Gazes Also | Summary



Rorschach, aka Walter Joseph Kovacs, is in jail. Dr. Malcolm Long, a psychoanalyst, is administering Rorschach inkblot tests to better understand Rorschach's mind. Rorschach lies about what he sees in the ambiguous pictures, and Dr. Long thinks Rorschach is getting better. As their relationship continues and Rorschach's life story becomes clearer, Dr. Long learns his patient hasn't been honest with him.

Walter Joseph Kovacs was born in 1940 to a single mother who supported herself and her son through prostitution. Young Walter has vivid memories of the cruel men who appeared to violate his mother and of his mother's reaction when she caught him spying. His mother's reputation was well known in town, which served as fodder for the neighborhood bullies. When Walter was 10, he beat up a group of boys who called him "whoreson." Upon investigation of his home life, he was taken to a children's home. He left at 16 and became an unskilled worker in a garment factory.

In 1962 Kovacs was working on a dress made of a new fabric composed of a viscous black fluid between two layers of white latex. The intended customer, Kitty Genovese, didn't want it, so Kovacs took it home and cut it down so "it didn't look like a woman anymore." He stashed it away. Weeks later he learns Kitty Genovese was murdered in front of her apartment while dozens of her neighbors looked on. "I knew what people were then," he tells Dr. Long. He went home, found the fabric from her dress, and turned it into "a face that [he] could bear to look at in the mirror." Thus, Kovacs became a vigilante, eventually partnering with Nite Owl to take down underworld bosses and street gangs.

Rorschach tells Dr. Long he was "soft" when he first began fighting the criminal class, meaning he let his quarry live so they could learn from their mistakes. That changed when Kovacs investigated the kidnapping of six-year-old Blaire Roche. He tracked her to a falling-down building in Brooklyn. He quickly realized she had been killed and fed to two German Shepherds, which were still on the property. Using a cleaver from the kitchen, Kovacs killed one of the dogs with a sharp blow to the middle of its forehead. Blood was everywhere, and Kovacs closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he was Rorschach. When the kidnapper came home a few hours later, Rorschach handcuffed him to a pipe and set him on fire.

At first Dr. Long is excited to have Rorschach as a patient, but the long hours and his subject's dark worldview take a toll on the once-optimistic doctor. He stops sleeping, he neglects his wife, and he becomes increasingly worried about the fate of the world at large. By the end of the chapter, his wife has left him and he finally understands what Rorschach has been trying to tell him: in the end, we are all alone in "meaningless blackness." The chapter ends with a quotation by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: "Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster."


Chapter 6's title, "The Abyss Gazes Also," is a reference to the Nietzsche quotation at the end of the chapter. Nietzsche is basically saying spending too much time around darkness and despair leads to darkness and despair of one's own. This advice is meant not for Rorschach but rather for Dr. Long. He entered his relationship with Rorschach optimistic about his patient's recovery, but the more he learns about Rorschach's formative years and the seamy underbelly of New York City, the more his sunny disposition dims. Rorschach's darkness is contagious. Dr. Long is particularly susceptible to it because it is his first exposure to the world's evils. Until now he had never come face to face with the gritty reality of life in the lowest classes. College educated, respected in the medical community, and comfortably ensconced in the upper middle class, Dr. Long may not have ever heard stories like Rorschach's before. He has certainly treated criminals, but probably none so blunt in their descriptions of their childhoods and their first kills. Working with Rorschach has opened an entire new world to Dr. Long, and it's an ugly one.

Rorschach's childhood undoubtedly shaped him into the morally questionable vigilante he is today. He saw his mother being violated by numerous men and wanted to protect her, but he was also teased about her not-so-secret occupation, which ultimately made him resent her and her activities. Adult Rorschach remains disgusted by sex, and he has very little use for women, particularly those, like his landlady, who earn money as prostitutes. He doesn't even like to be reminded of the female form, which is why he cuts up the dress meant for Kitty Genovese before storing it. He's not afraid of women, nor does he hate them—he just doesn't trust them very much. This is undoubtedly because of his strained relationship with his mother, whose abusive nature and reputation brought him so much pain.

Kitty Genovese was a real person, and she was murdered in March 1964. The New York Times initially reported she was stabbed to death in the courtyard of her apartment complex while 38 of her neighbors watched from their windows. None of the witnesses called the police. Psychologists used this story for decades to come to illustrate the increasing apathy of society at large. Author Alan Moore uses it in Watchmen as the catalyst for Rorschach's entry into vigilantism. Her death made him realize people cared only about themselves. "[A]shamed for humanity," he designated himself its protector. It's a good story in regard to how it shaped Rorschach—damaged young man crusades for humanity following brutal murder—but the real-life events are much different from the story the New York Times originally told. Kitty Genovese's neighbors did try to intervene. Only a handful of people, not 38, were aware of the commotion going on outside. One man yelled at the attacker and at least two people called the police. Genovese died in the arms of a woman who rushed to the apartment's ground floor vestibule, where the attacker completed the murder. Yet, by the time the truth came out, the myth of the apathetic neighbors had already taken root in popular culture.

Another turning point in Rorschach's life was the kidnapping and murder of Blaire Roche. Until then he had been "pretending" to be Rorschach every time he put on his mask and trench coat, and when he took them off he was Walter Kovacs again. Blaire's grisly death changed him, as did his first taking of a life. The German Shepherd he killed with a cleaver was somewhat innocent of its crimes—it didn't choose to kidnap the girl and cut up her remains—but he took his rage out on it anyway. He avenged a wrong by doing a wrong of his own. For most people, taking a life isn't easy no matter the circumstances. It was even more difficult for Walter Kovacs, who clings tightly to his moral code of right and wrong. It wasn't the right thing to do, but it also wasn't the wrong thing. Kovacs couldn't handle the moral gray area of his actions, but the vigilante Rorschach could. As Rorschach, the man formerly known as Kovacs can be at peace with the methods he uses to make the world a safer place. He is protecting not just the city but also himself.

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