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“A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet” - On Dissociation, Duality and Identity on Supernatural

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…”
- John Milton / “Paradise Lost” 

After reading an interesting article on the 350th anniversary of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” I found myself pondering one of the themes prevalent in the poem and how it translates to one of the themes I love so much on Supernatural and how it has been especially explored during Carver Era: The Topic of Duality and Identity.

One of the key aspects of Lucifer as a character in Milton’s poem is how the archangel sheds his original name and by that also crafts a new “life” for himself along with it. He no longer calls himself or is addressed as Lucifer but as “Satan” or “the Devil” (interestingly enough that is something Supernatural’s longest standing villain rejects completely, and despises these names which is an interesting aspect to keep in mind and one I’ll come back to later). This re-invention and the power of names is an intricate part of shaping one’s own identity and reality. It’s something we have seen countless pop culture figures go through for very similar reasons.

The pattern can be traced all the way back to fairytales like Rumpelstiltsken, but it can be found in a multitude of modern pieces of literature, art or television too. Think of Tom Riddle vs. Lord Voldemort, Dr. Jekyll vs. Mr Hyde or Walter White vs. Heisenberg. They all create alter egos for themselves in a fashion comparable to the renaming process that happens to demons in Milton’s work, because once they lost their positive identity, they also lost their names. It’s very much in line with what we see happening on Supernatural as all the more “run of the mill”-demons we have met thus far have been addressed by the name of the person they inhabited, Meg is probably the most memorable example for that. And it’s also of course a transformation the King of Hell himself underwent when he died as Fergus McLeod and emerged as Crowley.

Much like his mother, who always tried to escape her past and shape a new world for herself in which she possesses the power she lacked before when being rejected, so Crowley tried his best to forget about his past altogether and shape a new world and identity for himself. And all that went well and good until, well, the Winchesters came along. Until then Crowley was able to craft his new self and by shaping himself shaping also his own reality, how he perceives and thinks of himself (unintruded) and by that trying to infer how people perceive him. In the end however the dilemma comes down to what Kurt Vonnegut once described as: “Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what we pretend to be.” Because sometimes that - or rather the way we think about ourselves - can turn into your Achille’s heel or something like a self fulfilling prophecy. And on Supernatural, I suppose no one fights that battle with himself harder than Dean Winchester. That battle of how he thinks about himself and how/who he really is (and that aspect is drawn attention to again with Mr. Ketch insinuating that Dean and he are alike or that Dean is merely an unhinged killer (see meta and gifset here) - something Dean may think of himself at the worst of times, but which hardly can be counted as a realistic picture of who he truly is).

And in this regard I feel it’s important to remember that Dean went to Hell, was well on his way to becoming a demon, but got rescued before his soul may have been twisted too far to dip back. That doesn’t change anything about the fact however that Dean remembers that time, remembers what happened to him, what he did and what he became. It left a taint, some darkness within him and one he is deeply ashamed of. Now, question is how far along the transformation or dissociation went when he was in hell. Was Dean close to forgetting his own name, his own positive identity? And is that possibly the reason why Dean’s struggles in terms of identity and perception of self has gotten all the much worse post Hell too (while also of course taking into account the trauma he faced there)? Because Dean thinking about himself merely as a killer definitely stems from his experiences in and post Hell.

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It’s on days that I have to fight the hardest to stay alive that I remind myself that maybe, just maybe, it’s the ones who have to fight the hardest that God has the biggest plans for.