Teaching V for Vendetta: A Lesson Plan, of Sorts

Where It Fits:

V for Vendetta fits neatly into most larger frameworks of literary discussion. It examines issues of gender and race, power and politics, literature and textuality. It is also easier than many “classic” texts and engages students in a format and genre they may be either more interested in or which may prove a welcome novelty.

 

How Long:

The novel adapts well into 2-3 weeks of classes. The following will provide 6 days of material which can be easily adapted to either of these lengths. While it can fit into 2 weeks of, say, a MWF schedule, the richness of the text is also easily sustained over 3 weeks of classes which meet twice a week.

 

Why Teach It:

V for Vendetta is Alan Moore’s classic take on the vigilante anti-hero and, in keeping with the rest of his oeuvre, deconstructs the nature of heroism as much as villainy. The novel overtly explores a nationalist, fascist England of the future, suggesting how an emblem of democracy could slip into such a political state. Immediate questions of politics, ideology, race, and policing are all raised. But it is in the titular figure of “V,” the theatrical and enigmatic rebel who recruits a young woman, Evey, into his anarchistic aims, that the novel reaches its furthest depths of complexity and introspection. While the roadmap toward fascism feels both timely and crucial to discuss in the 21st century, the promises and dangers of V’s methods prove just as compelling.

           

            Themes:

                        Surveillance and Policing

                        Gender and Biopower

                        Theatricality and Camp

                        Nationalism and Humanism

                        Law and Justice

                        Anarchy and Order

 

Assignments:

Journaling: Throughout the reading, my students keep a journal to track key topics, themes, arguments (what I call a topic which the text casts in a particular light), and panels. We begin each class with 5-6 minutes of journaling. Any of these can be replaced with a quiz if you’re concerned with students not reading.

 

Panel Analysis: I always show the students the first panels of Moore’s other masterpiece, Watchmen, along with his notes to the illustrator which show just how much thought goes into one panel of the artwork, as they’ll often want to treat illustrations like a direct reflection of the words on the page. After this, I introduce the Panel Analysis Assignment, a paragraph in which they choose a panel and unpack the various choices for how they flesh out a theme of the text.

 

Intertext Analysis: Moore’s work is always filled with intertexts, works popping up, often in the background, which flesh-out the ideas he explores in the constricted language of the graphic medium. I tell students to choose a thinker, artist, singer, novel, or film which appears in V for Vendetta and do some research on it. They need not read/watch the entire piece but they need to discover enough about it to write a paragraph on how the intertext speaks to and complicates the ideas in the graphic novel.

 

 

Daily Discussion Guides and Resources:

 

Day 1 Pgs. 1–49

-Start with a reading journal and while they do pull up an image of Jeremy Bentham’s “Panopticon” http://www.ethics.org.au/on-ethics/blog/july-2017/explainer-the-panopticon. Prepare a few notes on surveillance and, specifically, how when one believes one might always be being watched and policed, one begins to police oneself.

 

-After finishing journals, direct them to the first page and discuss settings: dystopic barbed-wire borders with looming cameras, Evey’s room, and V’s gallery. Ask what they notice and direct them to the similarities/differences between V and Evey’s rooms. When someone brings up the cameras with their ironic signage (they will), introduce the image and ideas of the panopticon.

 

-Begin to list the ideas and themes already raised on JUST this first page:

            Theatricality

            Art

            Fate

            Surveillance

            Policing

            Self-reflection

            Masks/Makeup

 

-After this I use the opportunity to talk about Graphic Novels as a medium, how much is and can be conveyed. Ask about the color palate, level of realism. Lead to bigger questions: how does the medium change a story? Can it dig as deep? Deeper? What is added? What is lost?

 

This usually takes about 20-30 minutes and I let their inclinations and interests in the story direct the rest of the class. Feel free to use the time in other ways, obviously.

 

Key Moments:

Pg.16   Power of symbols

Pg.23   The police, like Evey, liken V to a character in a story, a medium he is very invested in.

Pg.37   Discussions of fascism and nationalism

Pg.41   Justice vs Freedom

 

Day 2 Pgs. 50—88

 

-Start with journaling while you que up a video on the Milgram electric shock experiments:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr5cjyokVUs. Prepare some comments or questions on what it suggests about order, authority, and the individual conscience. ((Read up on Hannah Arendt’s phrase “the banality of evil” for added material.))

 

-Rewrite your list of themes from the past class on the board and ask if there are additions to it you should add? Have some grown in importance? Ask the students to direct the class to moments that the text raises these issues.

 

-For the last 2-3 minutes, bring up the images from Watchmen and Moore’s notes to discuss the depth of thought which goes into illustration. Distribute the handout describing the panel analysis due in the next class.

 

Key Moments

Pg.72   Why is V monstrous, evil to the detective who seems good? What does this suggest about society and perspective?

Pg.73   Connection to electric shock experiment, authority.

Pg.76   Does good cover bad? Utilitarianism?

Pg.84   Why is poetry, irony important?

Pg.86   If V and anarchy are related to madness, what does the text say about the “sane”?

 

 

Day 3  Pgs. 89—143

Begin with reading journals.

 

For about 10 minutes ask 4-6 students to provide their panels and discuss their interpretation of them.

 

By this point in the text, students will have a pretty strong grasp of the themes of the text as well as the protocols for interpreting graphic novels. Discussion usually runs pretty smoothly.

 

((If you can get your hands on a copy of the movie, or use this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKvvOFIHs4k)) V’s address to the public is both different and compelling in the filmic version. It opens a great discussion of the scene itself and the difference in mediums.

 

Key Moments

Pg.94   Another example of showmanship; what is a magician’s job? Why is it relevant?

Pg.107 Discuss racist, fear-mongering movies and how they relate to nationalism.

Pg.113 V refers to the “job” of a populous... what is the idea behind this?

Pg 126 Like the relation of nationalism to racism, how is female sexuality used by fascism?

 

 

Day 4  Pgs. 144-181

 

-BEFORE JOURNALS talk about the class theme of Otherness pointing them to the following moments: Prothero “us versus them” (33), Priest “one race, one nation” (45), Valerie mourning homophobia (159). Ask them to make the text’s dealing with “otherness” the theme of the reading journal.

 

-I try to cover three main topics here: Prisons, Love, and V’s morality.

 

They are usually very apt to discuss prisons both literal and metaphoric. The ideas of the prisons of ourselves is already pretty familiar to most students and they’ll run with it.

 

The idea that love, a term they usually divorce COMPLETELY from politics, could be contingent on a political context is usually radical to students. Direct them to all the failed love in the text: Valerie’s criminal love, the abusive husbands, Evey’s misguided love looking for a parental figure. Ask them what the novel is suggesting about how our political surroundings can dictate even those things which seem completely “apolitical”.

 

Finally, I ask them to consider V’s actions here. Does the novel suggest he is doing what is right? What supports that? Do we think he’s doing what’s right? Is this the same “means to an end” that the fascists use? What does it mean if he’s not perfectly right?

 

Key Moments

Pg.159 Valerie asks why they are afraid. Good question.

Pg.167 V “sets her free” how suspicious are we?

Pg.169 Happiness is a prison

Pg.172 Arms making a V

 

 

Day 5 Pgs. 182—216

 

-While they journal, pull up the Yeats poem “The Second Coming” ((https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43290/the-second-coming)). Read it aloud and discuss some of the ideas: anarchy, fanaticism, modernity. Ask them what “the best lack all conviction” means? Why would the graphic novel reference this poem? ((You can also assign this as a second reading for this day)).

 

-After this discussion, I introduce the term “intertext” and discuss how texts can build on other texts, riff off them, respond to them, etc. I show the image of Finch reading Koestler on 182 and pull up the Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Roots_of_Coincidence.

 

-I use the occasion of this panel to let our discussion follow Finch. To start off, we discuss how our “hero,” V, deploys what we might call VERY questionable methods, even if it’s for a cause we agree with. Alternatively, Finch is on the wrong side but is of an impeccable moral character. What does the text explore about this matrix of right and wrong?

 

-At the end of class, I introduce the final assignment for this text, the intertext analysis, in which they’ll write a paragraph describing a text which appears in the graphic novel and its significance to the novel’s themes and ideas.

 

Key Moments

Pg.182 Koestler and the “Exit group” for death with dignity.

Pg.183 Evey goes by Eve now, cleaning out her room significantly. Talk names, maturing.

Pg.187 Giving all the people the gift of a mask

Pg.194 Distinction about anarchy and chaos.

Pg.201 Is V's description of Justice as an unfaithful woman problematic? Relate to Evey prison.

Pg.210 Taking drugs for truth, why? No new knowledge, he already knew, didn’t want to see.

Pg.216 Finch becomes like, or at least understands, V. What does it say about perspective?

 

Day 6  Pgs. 217-End

 

-Final journals. While they do so, look up the final fight scene from the movie either on the DVD or YouTube ((https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPlT2uKruwM&t=18s)). It is DRAMATICALLY different, very Hollywood, and seems ironically to miss the point of the text’s ending. Start discussion by watching it and discussing the differences.

 

-By the end of the book questions linger, especially with regards to the last few pages.

            -We know what V fought for and against, it is still unclear what he was willing to do.

            -What are we to make of Eve's role at the end? Is she going to be just like V?

            -Why do we end on Finch? Is he the most noble character? Why or Why not?

            -Did V need to die? Why? To let Eve rise? To pay for his own crimes?

            -What about Helen? What does she represent?

 

Key Moments

Pg.220 V has access to all of the cameras... is this wrong and creepy?

Pg.236 Why does the novel parallel Susan's death with V’s? What is it suggesting?

Pg. 263 Taking up V's role.

 

Justin Cosner, University of Iowa

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