Themes and Motifs

Throughout Watchmen, Moore weaves several prominent motifs that highlight the themes of the novel.

Unity—The Doomsday Clock

At the beginning of each chapter, the Doomsday Clock is shown, first set at ten minutes to twelve, and then moving ever closer to midnight. In the final chapter, the clock ticks onto twelve. In addition, a coating of blood moves farther down the page with each successive chapter. The Doomsday Clock has served as an international symbol for perilous danger in our society and thus is used in the novel to suggest the increasing violence throughout the plot of the story. As the clock moves closer to twelve, destruction threatens the world, and in the end, disaster—albeit through Jon as the scapegoat—unites the citizens.

The Mission—“Tales of the Black Freighter”

Moore weaves in the subtext of Tales of the Black Freighter starting in Chapter 3 as an allegory for the journeys that several characters take in the novel. In Tales of the Black Freighter, an unnamed sea captain is overtaken by the pirates of the Black Freighter. Escaping, the sea captain makes a raft of human bodies and rushes home to warn his family and others that the Black Freighter is coming. He, however, arrives before the Black Freighter and murders innocent people out of fear and ignorance. He realizes his mistake and gives himself over to the Black Freighter once it does arrive. This tale is symbolic of the mission of self-sacrifice that characters such as Adrian, Rorschach, and Dr. Manhattan make in the novel.

False Innocence—Smiley Face

Moore developed the motif of the smiley face to play on the false sense of innocence that pervades society. Gibbons marked this smiley face with a spot of blood to directly symbolize the murder of the Comedian, yet the blood on the smiley face also strengthens the play on innocence in the novel. This...

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