Guy Fawkes was a Catholic theocrat, attempting to depose a Protestant theocracy, at a time when and in a place where Catholics faced heavy and brutal suppression. He was a part of a group that was daily ostracised by society and he could face exile for his faith.
Fawkes fought back against those who oppressed him by being a part of a plot to blow up Parliament. Alan Moore, in the graphic novel of V for Vendetta, initially depicts Parliament being blown up. It’s as a part of the theme that runs through V for Vendetta in connecting action with symbolism; the action of blowing up Parliament in the novel demonstrates that Parliament isn’t a base of functional governance but a symbol of the government.
This connects with Fawkes, obviously, through the act of blowing up Parliament. But there’s more to it than that. Every year on November the Fifth in the UK it’s cultural that we have fireworks night, burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes and recite the poem:
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,
‘twas his intent
to blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow:
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip hoorah!
(well, actually the shortened version of the first four lines, but the longer version is important)
Guy Fawkes Night is a tradition used by the state to emphasise blind obedience to the monarchy and also remind people what happens to people who fight back against that. Moore’s use of Fawkes is a subversion of this, instead of burning the effigy of Fawkes instead his image is taken to create an identity for the character V, someone without a personal background and only a purpose. Later in the novel, after V’s death, Evey takes on the image of Fawkes. This is mirrored in the movie when the masses arise in insurrection wearing the Fawkes mask and has been taken on by Anonymous for the same reason.
The point is about creating an imagery for struggle and resistance separate from a person’s identity. Surrendering the self to the cause. Other pop culture instances of this could be the idea used in Nolan’s Batman where Wayne takes on the person to become a symbol, or in the movie Spartacus. A real life example would be the Zapatista movement in Mexico who wear bandanas/balaclavas to surrender their own identity from taking priority over the community. In tandem with this, Moore’s usage subverts the symbols of the states’ socialisation and creates a different purpose and meaning behind them.
It is a conscientious conversion from Fawkes, the nasty catholic traitor as the state reinforces him, to being a person who is willing to fight for what they believe in. It adds layers onto this regarding the effects of symbolism and identity to and within a movement.
I think there’s a lot to talk about on the subject with regards to the notion of personal agency versus unquestioning adherence to the will or a fatalistic approach to a divine direction of a movement, but decrying the imagery because the original person was this that or the other is naive and asinine.