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Dean Winchester: An Existentialist Hero?

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Dean Winchester: An Existentialist Hero?
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  󰁉󰁓󰁓󰁎 󰀲󰀱󰀷󰀳󰀭󰀵󰀱󰀲󰀳 󰁓󰁥󰁳󰁩󰃳󰁮 󰁮󰁯 󰁮󰁵󰁭󰁥󰁲󰁡󰁤󰁡󰀺 󰁒󰁥󰁶󰁩󰁳󰁴󰁡 󰁤󰁥 󰁬󰁥󰁴󰁲󰁡󰁳 󰁹 󰁦󰁩󰁣󰁣󰁩󰃳󰁮 󰁡󰁵󰁤󰁩󰁯󰁶󰁩󰁳󰁵󰁡󰁬 󰁎󰃺󰁭󰀮 󰀲 󰀨󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀲󰀩󰀺 󰀶󰀷󰀭󰀸󰀳 67 Dean Winchester: An Existentialist Hero? Dean Winchester: ¿Un héroe existencialista? Received: July 6, 2011 Accepted: December 12, 2011 Alyssa Silva Griffith University aswordsworth@gmail.com  Abstract The popular show Supernatural , in particular the character of Dean Winchester, provides an interesting examination of freedom of choice. In fact Supernatural proves itself amenable to an existentialist reading of law, in particular the existentialism of Jean Paul Sartre. After a brief introduction to the show, the elements of Sartre’s existentialism I will be developing in this paper include freedom, choice and authenticity. These elements combine to demonstrate the existentialist law favoured by Dean, whereby Dean’s scepticism of God allows for an authenticity that furthers his own autonomy. The patterning trope of two brothers is essential to Dean developing his own law and morality separate from the divine one that is imposed on him throughout the show, with natural law showcasing that there is more than one kind of existentialist law to choose from. Keywords Supernatural , existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre, natural law. Resumen La serie Sobrenatural , especialmente el personaje de Dean Winchester, proporciona un análisis interesante del libre albedrío. De hecho Sobrenatural  se presta fácilmente a una lectura existencialista de la ley, particularmente desde el existencialismo de Jean Paul Sartre. Tras una breve introducción a la serie, desarrollaré algunos elementos del existencialismo de Sartre como la libertad, la elección y la autenticidad. Estos elementos se combinan para demostrar la ley existencialista seguida por Dean, en la que su escepticismo sobre Dios le permite una autenticidad que va más allá de su propia autonomía. La figura paterna de ambos hermanos es fundamental para el desarrollo de la ley y la moralidad que hace Dean apartándose de la ley divina que le es impuesta en la serie, con la ley natural mostrando que hay más de un tipo de ley existencialista para elegir. Palabras clave Sobrenatural , existentialismo, Jean-Paul Sartre, ley natural. ζ    󰁁󰁬󰁹󰁳󰁳󰁡 󰁓󰁩󰁬󰁶󰁡 󰁓󰁥󰁳󰁩󰃳󰁮 󰁮󰁯 󰁮󰁵󰁭󰁥󰁲󰁡󰁤󰁡󰀺 󰁒󰁥󰁶󰁩󰁳󰁴󰁡 󰁤󰁥 󰁬󰁥󰁴󰁲󰁡󰁳 󰁹 󰁦󰁩󰁣󰁣󰁩󰃳󰁮 󰁡󰁵󰁤󰁩󰁯󰁶󰁩󰁳󰁵󰁡󰁬 󰁎󰃺󰁭󰀮 󰀲 󰀨󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀲󰀩󰀺 󰀶󰀷󰀭󰀸󰀳 68 1. Introduction The popular show Supernatural  (Kripke, cr., 2005-), in particular the character Dean Winchester, provides an interesting examination of freedom of choice. In fact Supernatural proves itself amenable to an existentialist reading of law, in particular the existentialism of Jean Paul Sartre. After a brief introduction to the show, the elements of Sartre’s existentialist philosophy I will be developing in this paper include freedom, choice and authenticity. These elements combine together with the patterning trope of two brothers to demonstrate the existentialist law favoured by Dean, whereby Dean’s scepticism of God and his love for his brother contributes towards an authenticity that furthers his own autonomy. I will then attempt to reconcile the existential angst inherent within Sartre’s paradox of freedom by introducing the natural law theory of St Thomas Aquinas, which provides a suitable vehicle considering the Christian worldview favoured by the mythology of the series. Natural law overcomes Sartre’s claim that the inclusion of external factors in decision-making is detrimental to absolute individual freedom. Instead Dean’s existential law accepts natural law’s recognition of extra-legal values to accommodate his love for his brother. Sam Winchester becomes a moral good to be secured in Dean’s law and highlights the crucial aspect of choice in existentialism. Dean has decided his own form of morality from the various options set out before him, with every judgment and judicial decision determined solely on his own terms. 2. The curious case of Dean Winchester Supernatural began airing in 2005 on The WB and has slowly but steadily built itself a loyal following. The show focuses on Dean and Sam Winchester, two brothers who travel across America in a black 1967 Chevy Impala hunting various supernatural and paranormal entities. In the episode “Pilot” ( Supernatural , 1x01) we discover that both brothers have been hunters since the death of their mother at the hands of Azazel when Dean was four and Sam six months old. Sam and Dean have spent the last four years apart due to Sam wanting a normal life, an issue that plagues the brothers when they are reunited. They begin hunting again when their father John goes missing and Azazel kills Sam’s girlfriend Jessica. Season 3 of the series saw the introduction of a more Christian-focused mythology, with Dean and Sam scrambling to find a way to break a contract that Dean had made in the finale of Season 2. The character of Lilith, and Dean’s subsequent descent into Hell, served as a precursor for the story arc that  󰁄󰁥󰁡󰁮 󰁗󰁩󰁮󰁣󰁨󰁥󰁳󰁴󰁥󰁲󰀺 󰁁󰁮 󰁅󰁸󰁩󰁳󰁴󰁥󰁮󰁴󰁩󰁡󰁬󰁩󰁳󰁴 󰁈󰁥󰁲󰁯󰀿 󰁓󰁥󰁳󰁩󰃳󰁮 󰁮󰁯 󰁮󰁵󰁭󰁥󰁲󰁡󰁤󰁡󰀺 󰁒󰁥󰁶󰁩󰁳󰁴󰁡 󰁤󰁥 󰁬󰁥󰁴󰁲󰁡󰁳 󰁹 󰁦󰁩󰁣󰁣󰁩󰃳󰁮 󰁡󰁵󰁤󰁩󰁯󰁶󰁩󰁳󰁵󰁡󰁬 󰁎󰃺󰁭󰀮 󰀲 󰀨󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀲󰀩󰀺 󰀶󰀷󰀭󰀸󰀳 69 would follow in Seasons 4 and 5 of the Winchesters struggling to stop the Apocalypse, together with fellow hunter Bobby Singer and the angel Castiel. The brothers discover that they are pitted on opposite sides –Lucifer wants Sam as his vessel, while the archangel Michael has picked Dean ( Supernatural , 5x01, “Sympathy for the Devil”; 5x13, “The Song Remains the Same”)–. Eric Kripke, the creator of the series, remarked in an interview that “the core concern of the show is free will versus destiny. And when you’re destined to do something, can you rail against it?” (Kripke, 2009). It is this treatment of freedom by Supernatural that has made the show open to existentialism and natural law, both theories concerned with personal autonomy and the effect of external forces on said choices. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the character of Dean Winchester. The character progression that Dean undergoes from Seasons 3 to 5 showcases a fragile quality that belies his tough exterior, particularly evident when he returns from Hell in Season 4. While an in-depth character study might be beyond this paper, “Sam, Interrupted” ( Supernatural , 5x11) presented an interesting psychological analysis of his character: “For Dean, there are two obvious character flaws. The first is his compulsion to save everyone and his willingness to sacrifice himself to do it. The second is the way he copes with that stress: a steady stream of booze and women” (Kubicek, 2010). The root of these flaws lies in Dean’s relationship with Sam. Dean assumed the role of parent to his younger brother while John was out hunting and the responsibility that has evolved from that is an integral part of why he sacrifices his life for Sam’s in “All Hell Breaks Loose Pt II” ( Supernatural , 2x22). It is Dean’s almost codependent relationship with his brother that is key to developing the centrality of freedom that shapes his individuality, as it is this familial obligation that becomes the central question of the show. As Kripke states, “religion and gods and beliefs -- for me, it all comes down to your brother” (2009). Dean begins to realize in Season 4 that destiny demands that, no matter the outcome, in the end he has to kill his brother. It is because of this fight against destiny that Dean creates his own existentialist law, a judicial activism that breaks away from the stare decisis Heaven wishes to impose on him. Or as Dean says in “Jus in Bello” ( Supernatural , 3x12): “Honestly, I think the world’s going to end bloody. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight. We do have choices. I choose to go down swingin’”.  󰁁󰁬󰁹󰁳󰁳󰁡 󰁓󰁩󰁬󰁶󰁡 󰁓󰁥󰁳󰁩󰃳󰁮 󰁮󰁯 󰁮󰁵󰁭󰁥󰁲󰁡󰁤󰁡󰀺 󰁒󰁥󰁶󰁩󰁳󰁴󰁡 󰁤󰁥 󰁬󰁥󰁴󰁲󰁡󰁳 󰁹 󰁦󰁩󰁣󰁣󰁩󰃳󰁮 󰁡󰁵󰁤󰁩󰁯󰁶󰁩󰁳󰁵󰁡󰁬 󰁎󰃺󰁭󰀮 󰀲 󰀨󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀲󰀩󰀺 󰀶󰀷󰀭󰀸󰀳 70 3. Are you there, God? It’s me Dean Winchester French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy of existentialism focuses on the choices that individual’s make, with the practical application of Sartre’s freedom emphasizing authenticity. For Sartre there is no formal account of what it means to be human, since existing itself designates that meaning. In contrast to other entities, whose essential properties are fixed by the kind   of entities they are, what is essential to a human being –what makes him who  he is– is not fixed by his type but by what he makes of himself, who he becomes. According to Barnes, for Sartre “man is a creature in whom existence always precedes essence” (Barnes, 1959: 43). Sartre himself goes on to explain: We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world –and defines himself afterwards. If man, as the existentialist sees him, is not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. (Sartre, 2005) Existentialist values intensify consciousness, arouse the passions, and commit the individual to a course of action which will engage his total energies (Olson, 1967: 18). Freedom depends not on situation, but on attitude (Killinger, 1961: 304). Sartre states that, “as we have seen, for human reality, to be is to choose oneself  ; nothing comes to it either from the outside or from within which it can receive or accept” (Sartre, 1943: 440). This freedom is only validated if it can be considered authentic. “Existence is authentic to the extent that the existent has taken possession of himself and, shall we say, has moulded himself in his own image” (Macquarrie, 1973: 206). It is through these strategic choices and assumption of responsibility that man can affect his own character, his identity constructed based on this self-aware freedom (Meyerson, 1998: 453-455). To do otherwise would be considered bad faith, whereby choices are not carefully distinguished by the individual but instead based solely on the shaky foundations of indistinctive belief (Barnes, 1959: 54). Life is a pursuit of oneself, “the equivalent of realizing that life is a process of freely making oneself, of gradual but never completed self-realization” (Barnes, 1959: 69). It is only through this quest that man determines his existence, and becomes a creature not of his environment but of what he makes of that environment (Sartre, 1943: 477).
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