From Guile to Guilt

Last July, I wrote about what I believed each of the Street Fighter tarot cards represented. I went through every card, pointing out the hidden meanings, and why each character was put on that card. There was one card, though, in which I just wasn’t satisfied with the conclusion. I kept running different scenarios through my head. Nothing seemed to fit. It has bothered me to this very day. Now, I believe I know what the meaning is. A mystery that has been nagging me for nearly a year can finally be put to rest, and I can finally work on the last of the original eight characters from Street Fighter II who I have not done a theory on.

It’s time for Guile’s mysteries to be unveiled.

First and foremost, Guile is a soldier, a military man through and through. Everything he learned, he learned in the Air Force, fighting being just one of the many things he picked up. He learned how to be disciplined. He learned how to be strong. What it didn’t teach him, though, was how to be a family man. That was what he needed more than anything, but if his infamous quote in Street Fighter II showed, he considered it beneath him.

Guile knew nothing about how he was supposed to act around his family. His military career and his obsession over his friend and mentor, Charlie Nash, consumed him. He stepped away from everything he built around himself for a chance to rescue someone he didn’t know was alive or dead; he believed Nash was alive, and that was enough for him.

His search for his friend and the abandonment of his family thereby makes the choice of Guile as the Hierophant in the Street Fighter tarot card set unusual. Every other character and card fit relatively cleanly. Guile didn’t, and I pointed this out in my theory on the tarot cards. As I pointed out, the Hierophant “stands for tradition and convention. It can represent marriage in an arranged setup.” I also pointed out that Guile is a major hypocrite regarding conventions – he doesn’t follow them. In other words, Guile is the exact opposite of what the Hieropant symbolizes. Look at what the Google link says:

Guile is the Hierophant in reverse. The reversed Hierophant in tarot represents breakdown, rejection of family values, abuse of position, and poor counsel, all of which Guile has shown in one way or another. Both the abuse of position and poor counsel are represented by his disobeyance of orders from his superiors who want him to end his search. More so, Nash is considered a rogue operative, and for Guile to pursue the search for a man who essentially went AWOL is going to look bad for both Guile and the military. Quite simply, Guile may love his country, but getting counsel from Guile would be like getting counsel from an unlicensed surgeon – there’s a very high risk that bad things will happen, and you will probably end up dying by bleeding out on the floor.

This allows me to look at Guile’s card in a different light: the Hierophant isn’t what Guile is – it’s what Guile aims to be. He WANTS to be traditional. He WANTS to live up to the expectations of what society expects of him. He WANTS to be a teacher. The thing is he can’t. Charlie’s death haunts him, and he can’t put it behind him. It led him to fight Bison during Street Fighter II. It led him to continue the search beyond the events of Street Fighter IV into Street Fighter V. Guile’s entire existence was wrapped up in finding Charlie.

Then he showed up in V, and Guile didn’t seem to be all that surprised with his return, with Guile merely stating, “This might be a trick,” and when losing, simply denying that the man in front of him was his friend. So… what happened?

We’re going to have to look at everything that has happened to Guile up to this point to understand why he reacted the way he did. While we could start with the events of Guile’s Street Fighter Alpha 3 ending, since it was rendered non-canon due to the events of Street Fighter V, we’ll need to find another starting point. Fortunately, V provides exactly that, with Nash’s story mode. Nash goes against his commander’s orders to stay put, and declines Guile’s help to face Shadaloo, choosing to go alone. Nash is betrayed by his own men, since Shadaloo has already infiltrated the military, and Nash drops to his death over a waterfall.

This leads Guile to start his own one-man mission to take out Bison himself. In Super Street Fighter II, Guile is about to kill Bison himself, when Guile’s family appears and tells him not to kill the Shadaloo leader. They all return home, and Guile states that it feels like he’s “waking up from a long nightmare.”

In Street Fighter II Turbo Remix edition, however, Guile himself chooses not to kill Bison, and meets up with his family at Charlie’s empty grave.

Regardless of which SF II ending is officially canon, in Street Fighter IV, Guile continues to struggle with his quest ot see if Nash is still alive, and yells at his superior, who sternly tells him to “leave the past behind.” Guile threatens to resign, until his superior gives him Charlie’s dog tags and sends him on another mission.

This finally leads to Guile’s story in SFV, where he’s teaching Abel, of all people, to keep a calm mind, something Nash taught him. He states, “Anger’s a tool, but if your emotions dictate your actions, you won’t survive.”

So, in light of everything here, what is Guile’s story telling us? It’s not simple, but in a nutshell, it’s showing Guile’s growth as a character from game to game… or really, the lack of. This isn’t to say that Guile isn’t a complex character. While a lot of what he does is predictable and familiar, there is a far deeper meaning to Guile’s actions. He remains stoic through it all, but after you get past the steely facade, you begin to understand what it is Guile is trying to hide. There is one driving motivator behind everything Guile does. It isn’t justice or the honor of the military or even trying to stop Shadaloo. It’s one very common emotion in people who have suffered pain: guilt.

Guile is overwhelmed with guilt. Guilt for not doing more to save his friend, guilt for the inability to stop Shadaloo, guilt for being a terrible husband and father. It eats away at him every day of his life. While it’s said that after Street Fighter II, he became more focused on being a family man, the truth is he couldn’t, not with the guilt inside of him. Charlie’s disappearance bothered him to the point he left his family again to pursue his friend’s killers.

However, in Street Fighter V, there were signs that he’d finally let go of the past and was looking toward the future. Then Nash showed up out of nowhere. What did we see when Guile was confronted with his past? Disbelief. He couldn’t accept that his best friend was standing there in front of him. He denied it all the way through losing to him in a fight. When he did finally realize that Nash had returned, he did the only things he could – offer his hand when Nash was being pursued by Necalli and then give him back his dog tags.

The disbelief that Guile showed upon Nash’s arrival was the primary sign that he had put his friend behind him, but there was one other sign that showed that Guile had already begun healing: his non-emotions regarding everything Nash was doing. This could be chalked up to Nash not having anything to say to Guile, Guile’s penchant for stoicism, or Nash being the one who taught Guile to remain calm under any situation in the first place. Whatever the reason, Guile’s overall reaction to a friend who he thought was dead for years says a lot about what was going on inside.

Basically, he just stopped giving a damn.

The emotional turmoil he was already going through would have been exhausting to the point that he completely checked out. Sure, he still wanted to beat Shadaloo, but at this point, it was more out of a sense of duty than of personal vendettas. He knew Shadaloo and Bison had to be stopped and fought them simply because of the threat they held to the world. He fought them because he had to.

Nash’s return virtually eliminated any progress Guile had made regarding his inner conflicts, and instead of helping Guile cope with his guilt, it simply reopened old wounds. It could be said that Charlie’s ultimate sacrifice in Street Fighter V may be a way of providing closure, but in reality, it won’t. The cycle will continue. Guile will continue to believe Nash is still alive. He wil continue to search for his friend and hold onto hope they will see each other again someday. He will continue to be a well-intentioned, but neglectful husband and father. He will never be a family man.

And he will never wake up from his long nightmare.

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