The Masked Face of an Ideal

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Heroes are figures of excellence, raised beyond the mark of average. They are worshipfully elevated and trusted. Despite the limitations of the flesh, a hero stands immortal by his place in the common mind. He is the personification of a deeply rooted ideal.

In The Grand Inquisitor, Fyodor Dostoevsky writes that the “age-old anguish of man” is in the question, “Before whom should one bow down?” Humans crave obedience to tangible idols, or gods of the flesh. These gods, Dostoevsky explains, carry “absolute” and “undisputed banner[s]” before them (292). These are health, purpose, and unity. The immortal emblem anoints the common flesh in godly authority and makes men heroic. Therefore, a hero can only be as big as the ideal he personifies.

Order is one such ideal, presented more specifically as health in the graphic novel, V for Vendetta. Riots break out in the aftermath of nuclear war because the government fails to embody order. Food is scarce, and sickness is rampant, but Norsefire manages to get things “under control” (Moore 28). In doing so, they answer man’s age-old question and absorb all of London beneath the banner of health. As no other good is “more undisputed,” the overwhelmingly grateful British commoners idolize Norsefire for their heroic offering (Dostoevsky 292). They submit to their hero completely, as to a god.

V’s character represents the ideals of protection and belonging, which are indisputable banners in Evey’s circumstance. Fatherless, Evey has resorted to prostitution for support, but V rescues her from the streets. After assuring her safety, he teaches Evey “to breathe…the air of knowledge” for guidance (Moore 218). He raises a heroic banner that is loftier than life: “what one lives for” (Dostoevsky 293). V’s banner, the freedom of anarchy, “seduces [Evey’s] conscience” and she submits. In her submission, Evey actively promotes violence that contradicts her moral convictions. She allows her masked salvation to become her ethical hero as well.

When V’s physical flesh meets its mortal end, a helpless victim of the streets inherits the hero she has trusted. By literally wearing his mask, Evey animates the idea of V. Though his flesh and blood are killed, V’s “ideas are bulletproof” (Moore 236). Evey only extends his dream for “universal union,” a third banner of uncontested heroism (Dostoevsky 296). Paradoxically, V desires union’s rigidly patterned framework by means of freedom, that the people may “rule themselves; their lives and loves and land” (Moore 245). True freedom, however, is impossible to personify, for a hero is, by nature, one elevated – a possessor of inherent authority. Evey’s overwhelming influence against self-initiated bondage would be itself oppressive. Her influence as a hero is limited by freedom itself.

It is seen, then, how the idea is greater than its body. A hero’s flesh is only the temporal vessel for that timeless figure, the ideal, which stands rooted in every individual consciousness. Function alone distinguishes the hero. He is not greater than any other in essence, but by ordination, he is a universal symbol. That is his authority, though it is not his by right. A hero’s authority is often made absolute beneath the absolute banners of food, purpose, and unity – each was outlined in The Grand Inquisitor and demonstrated in V for Vendetta. Beneath these three banners, it seems there are an abundance of ideals for which men can inherit authority as heroes. There is at least one, however, that refutes the system of heroism, and that is freedom.  No man can elevate himself on the freedom of others.