For those of you that don’t know, Evey Hammond is the leading lady of the anarchists’ favourite comic book, V for Vendetta. Set in a dystopian future where England is ruled by an oppressive fascist government, the plot revolves around Evey, a young woman who gets caught up in the targeted anarchy/elaborate revenge plot of a charismatic terrorist. Widely regarded as one of the best graphic novels of recent years, the comic has had a massive impact on the cultural consciousness – not least of which is the stylised Guy Fawkes mask V wears, which has become a shorthand for popular protests against the government. Evey herself is at the centre of all this – winning Natalie Portman an award for getting all her hair cut off when she’s not tagging along with trigger-happy anarchists.
But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!
- Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
Evey is a subject of a totalitarian regime that uses secret police, a network of informers and torture to keep its citizens in line. As you’d expect, this means that Evey isn’t exactly free to wander about where she pleases. A significant amount of where she goes and what she does is dictates by the fact that she’s living under this regime – whether she’s sneaking out past curfew or trying to bring down the government.
But even leaving all that aside, Evey still isn’t really in control of her own destiny. The person who has the most control over Evey’s life is V – the mysterious and charismatic terrorist who takes her under his wing. After rescuing her from an attempted rape, he takes her back to his secret lair and tries to get her to help out with his plans to bring down various fascist bigwigs. She runs away from him and spends some time being sheltered by Gordon Deitrich – a gangster in the original comic, Stephen Fry in the movie – but when he dies, she quickly ends up back in V’s custody. This time, however, he doesn’t introduce her to music and films the government have banned – instead he allows her to believe she’s been kidnapped by the government, systematically tortures and beats her and eventually makes her think she’s going to be executed. He does all of this in an attempt to ‘free’ her from the various things that tie her to society – including her self-preservation, desire not to harm anyone, and the last few dregs of her innocence, hope and/or sanity.
This is all painted as being for Evey’s own good (so please excuse me while I take a minute to throw up into this bucket) but it’s just pure and simple brainwashing. V moulds Evey into someone who can carry on his work after his death without asking her if that’s what she really wants to do. She has a few moments (both in the comic and the film) where she makes her own decisions – such as refusing to help him kill people, or going to Gordon Deitrich for help – but these are nowhere near frequent enough to stand on an equal footing with the amount of control V has over her life. I’m going to have to withhold the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 0
- Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
We don’t hear a lot about Evey’s hobbies – in the graphic novel it’s made clear that she’s too preoccupied with her financial worries to have much free time, and in the film they just aren’t mentioned. Her goals and beliefs are much more clearly defined – but as I mentioned earlier, they change pretty drastically thanks to V.
At the start of V for Vendetta, Evey just wants a normal life – she wants to make sure she has enough to eat, make sure she isn’t picked up by any Fingermen (secret police to you and me) and above all, to have a safe and normal life. She doesn’t want to hurt people and seems to value having a quiet, safe life over bigger concepts like freedom and justice.
V doesn’t like this, so he changes it.
He systematically tortures Evey, pretending to be a government official interrogating her about his own whereabouts. At the same time, he supplies her with a letter – which he himself received while he was a political prisoner – detailing the life story of a famous actress who was imprisoned and executed over her sexuality. Inspired by the efforts of her fellow prisoner – who, in fact, has already been dead for several years – Evey develops an entirely new set of goals and beliefs. She completely turns against the fascist regime, disregarding all her concerns about her own safety, and resolves to bring them down.
This is exactly what V wants, and exactly what he thinks. He’s aware that his political activities put him at risk and wants a successor to carry on his work, so he makes Evey into his creature, regardless of what she actually wants to do or be. It would be an entirely different situation if she was captured and interrogated by the real secret police and her views changed on their own – that would give her much more autonomy and be considerably less creepy. But these aren’t really conclusions she reaches on her own, but conclusions he beat into her.
As such, I’m not going to be giving her the full point. Her goals and beliefs are clear and well-defined, but they’re also the result of systematic brainwashing explicitly designed to make her goals and beliefs into something her torturer approves of. I’ll give her half a point.
SCORE SO FAR: 0.5
- Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
Evey is a relatively consistent character. She starts off naïve, well-meaning, but overall concerned more with her own safety and happiness than political ideology. After being tortured by V she becomes quite a different character – much more determined, a committed and zealous revolutionary, much more at home with violence and chaos and far less innocent.
The two parts to Evey’s character are pretty consistent, and it’s reasonable that she would change after undergoing such a dramatic experience. Before her ordeal we do see hints that she would be prepared to do terrible things if she felt she had to, particularly in the graphic novel, where she tries to become a sex worker to get some extra cash, and tries to kill the man who murdered her gangster boyfriend. We also see most of her knowledge about popular culture, illusion and how to build highly destructive explosives come from V – it’s not like it just magically drops into her head. I’ll give her the point this time round as to be quite frank, it’d be weird if she didn’t change after all she’s been through.
SCORE SO FAR: 1.5
- Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
A naïve young woman is trying to survive in a totalitarian regime and, after a traumatic experience, becomes a committed revolutionary.
SCORE SO FAR: 2.5
- Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
Evey’s love life isn’t really a feature of the film, so I’ll be focusing on the graphic novel here.
In the original V for Vendetta, Evey is a sixteen-year-old girl who uses her love life as a ticket to security – whether that’s financial or is she’s just after a bed for the night. As such, when it comes to her romantic entanglements she’s not always acting as a result of any real feelings. We only really see her motivated by love is when she attempts to shoot the man who killed her boyfriend, Gordon Deitrich – but as Gordon was also the man who took her off the streets, there’s probably a bit more going on there. You can also make a case for love motivating her when she decides to carry out V’s final wishes, but seeing as she’s been pretty thoroughly brainwashed by that point I’ll be chalking that one up to the total number he did on her psyche.
The rest of the time she’s motivated by self-preservation or revolutionary zeal, so I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 3.5
- Does she develop over the course of the story?
Evey does develop over the story, mainly as a result of her incredibly traumatic not-a-real-prison-camp experience. She goes from being an innocent, naïve young woman who just wants to keep her head down into a determined, dedicated anarchist, fully prepared to use violence and chaos to bring down the last remnants of a fascist regime.
SCORE SO FAR: 4.5
- Does she have a weakness?
Evey doesn’t really have a weakness. In the graphic novel, she’s extremely naïve, but she’s also a sixteen-year-old girl, so that’s not exactly an unusual character flaw. In both the comic and the film she doesn’t really have any character traits that cause problems for her or hold her back. All the situations she’s confronted with aren’t the result of her mistakes or poor choices – they’re made by other people. I’m withholding the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 4.5
- Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
Not really. Evey is a pretty passive character: she gets rescued by V, helps him with his plan to bring down a creepy bishop, then goes off with Gordon Deitrich for a bit. She gets captured, ‘re-educated’ by V, and ends up helping out with more of his plans for revolution, and goes on to pick up where he left off after he dies.
Evey’s not really the one calling the shots here. For a moment, let’s leave aside the fifty bazillion times she gets kidnapped and/or rescued by various characters and focus on what she does. All the events she participates in are set in motion by other people, and usually by V. She moves through the story thanks to the way other characters look at her – whether that’s as a potential victim, lover or successor. She has a few moments where her actions directly influence the plot but these number in the single digits, so I’m withholding the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 4.5
- How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
Evey’s a fairly complex character in terms of gender stereotypes. On the one hand she can be quite progressive – she’s prepared to get her hands dirty, withstands terrible torture and eventually takes up the mantle of a very violent revolutionary. None of these are things young women are usually seen doing in fiction, and Evey does them very well.
But on the other hand, she’s a character who’s frequently punished when she tries to express her sexuality, has to rely on other characters to take care of her, and rarely makes any of her own decisions. She spends a substantial amount of the plot being captured and rescued by various characters – more often than not she’s being taken places, rather than choosing to go there on her own. And of course, V grooming her as his successor – systemically breaking down her sense of self, removing her happiness piece by piece and replacing it with something he approves of – is treated as a positive thing. Evey’s torture is seen as a necessary evil – something that she must endure in order to become free of pesky little things like happiness and mental stability – and the worst part is that she eventually comes to think this, too.
Whenever I read V for Vendetta, the overwhelming sense I get is of Evey as a victim. Her helplessness is stressed from the very beginning, but it’s not something she overcomes herself, or even by her own choice; it’s something that she’s forced to do by a violent and dangerous man. She undergoes a traumatic and violent experience simply because a male character decides that it’s for her own good – never mind the fact that she becomes a completely different person because of it. She is a character who’s forced to do things far more than she actually decides to do them for herself.
For me, that means she can never be a positive character when it comes to gender stereotypes. Yes, she certainly has her moments, but there’s no getting away from the fact that she spends the bulk of her story in a position of helplessness – and she only gets away from that position when she submits to a violent, insane man. She has to give herself to him completely, not even keeping her mind safe from him, in order for her to be ‘free’ – but she’s become his puppet, and she’ll never be free from him.
SCORE SO FAR: 4.5
- How does she relate to other female characters?
Evey doesn’t really interact with many other female characters – most of the people she talks to and cares about are men. The one exception is Valerie – the lesbian actress whose letters she reads in prison. Evey cares about her and is inspired not to give in by reading her letters. But the thing is, those letters weren’t even written for her. Valerie actually passed those letters to V – Evey never met Valerie, as she died several years before the story even started. I can’t really let her have this one.
FINAL SCORE: 4.5/10
Evey is a reasonably consistent character with clearly set out goals and beliefs, who isn’t ruled by her love life and develops over her story – but this still isn’t enough to pass my test. She doesn’t have a weakness, she doesn’t have any real relationships with any other female characters, she spends a hell of a lot of time getting captured and rescued by various characters and her trajectory through the story is dictated by other characters. And that’s not even mentioning the brutal torture that V decides is for her own good – a position that the book seems to agree with.
But should all of this affect your enjoyment of V for Vendetta, or negate the impact it has had? I’m not so sure. Like much of Alan Moore’s work it has come to be seen as a classic, but I think it could benefit from a more critical approach – there’s a lot of things about the graphic novel I find particularly troubling that I haven’t really been able to touch on here. But there’s no denying the impact it has had, or how compelling the story can be. I’d encourage all of you to read the book yourselves and make up your mind for yourself – and feel free to leave a comment if you do!
Next week, I’ll be looking at one of my favourite films – Miss Congeniality. Gracie Hart, I’m coming for you.
And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.