Personality Analysis of Walter White
Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, is the main character of AMC’s hit drama Breaking Bad. The massively popular show first aired in 2008 and has since completed five seasons with more to come. Cranston was previously very well-known for his role as the father on the comedy Malcolm in the Middle, a very different role from this. Other recognized members of the cast include creator Vince Gilligan, writer and executive producer for X-Files, and co-star Aaron Paul, who has appeared in a number of films and commercials. This show is easily regarded as the highest point for each of these men’s careers.
Breaking Bad tells the story of Walter White, who is initially portrayed as the most boring, stereotypical middle-aged white man possible. He has a very 90’s look to himself, from his haircut to large moustache to neutral colored outfits. He works as a high school chemistry teacher, preaching to obviously disinterested kids who are fighting to stay awake in his classes. Walter also has to work a second job at a car wash to supplement his teacher salary. He is married to Skylar and has a teenage son named Walter Jr. who has cerebral palsy. He also has a baby girl named Holly who is born at the end of season two.
Skylar’s sister, Marie Schrader, and her husband, Hank, are also very involved in the White’s life and are treated as immediate family. Walter’s life takes a traumatic turn when he learns that he has lung cancer and is only expected to live another few years with treatment. His only concern upon learning this is the financial burden this will place upon his family. They were already tight on money with Walter Jr. ’s medical bills and the upcoming birth of a second child. Because of this, Walter initially refuses chemotherapy, claiming he wants to live out his days in the comfort of his own home with his family.
However, when he is convinced by his family to go ahead with the treatment, Walter takes it upon himself to find a way to ensure that medical bills will not always being looming over his family. He does this by deciding to sell crystal methamphetamine with a former druggie student of his, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). The show is the story of the double life that Walter develops and all the lies and roles he must maintain on his journey from being family-focused father to murdering-capitalist-drug kingpin. With a deeper look at the story, a Jungian perspective will be used to explain the personality development of Walter White.
Carl Jung was a Neo-Freudian psychoanalytic most well-known for his personality theory of the psyche. According to this, personality is divided into three structures: the ego, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. The ego is the conscious part of the personality. It is what a person is aware of and is responsible for a sense of identity and continuity in time. The personal unconscious houses information that a person was aware of at one time but was not impressionable to the point of making a conscious noting for future reference.
Within the personal consciousness are complexes, or collections of ideas and their associated feelings that unconsciously influence behavior. Finally, the collective consciousness is the basic knowledge and intuition inherited from evolutionary ancestors, and is where archetypes are held. Probably the most influential topic of Jungian theory, archetypes are predispositions and templates of situations and experiences that help guide behavior and emotion. Conflict between the ego, personal unconscious, and collective unconscious is the psychic energy, or libido, that fuels people; without libido (conflict) the person is dead.
The main focus will be on the collective unconscious and the archetypes that reside within this. Archetypes are present in a person via the ancestral collective unconscious. There are four archetypes: the persona, the anima/animus, the shadow, and the self. Persona is the Latin word for mask and is used by Jung to describe a person’s public personality. This is the part of the psyche that a person is known by and helps the person to play their societal roles. The anima/animus archetype is the feminine and masculine traits that a person’s personality reflects.
According to Jung, all people have some amount of both components and each gender is expected to display a certain balance of each. The shadow archetype is the origin of animal instincts. Typically thought of as undesirable, the shadow is projected through aggression and evil acts. Finally, the self archetype is the part of the psyche that is responsible for harmonizing everything else. The goal of this archetype is to reach self-realization where every component is balanced perfectly. However, this is seen as an unobtainable goal because if every component is perfectly balanced then there is no conflict, and without conflict there is no libido; without libido there is death.
These archetypes are fluid and are not set in stone. Walter White demonstrates a large shift in energy from the persona to the shadow archetype throughout his journey. In season one of Breaking Bad, Walter White is a boring man living a boring life. The viewer quickly gets the sense that Walter is not happy with how his life has turned out. He is a very smart chemist who got his graduate degree and helped found Gray Matters Technologies with his best friend. However, shortly after Walter left the company for more time with his family, it exploded into a multi-billion dollar company using his ideas.
Walter never gets credit and ends up working as an overqualified high school teacher and car washer. His colleagues crack jokes at his expense and his boss at the car wash overworks him and yells at Walter with disrespect. While the animosity and frustration with his life is assumed to be great, Walter does not express his feelings; instead he “takes it” and continues to be the butt of ridicule. At home, things are not any more exciting. Family life is dull, with dinner scenes of silence followed by everyone’s immediate retreat into their own areas.
He does not find much passion in his love life any more, but again does not talk about his worries and opts to bottle it up. While his life may be boring, Walter is doing the best he can to support and raise a family, a value he labels as most important. This is a trait strongly linked with the animus archetype. Typically the father of the household ensures the safety and security of his family at all costs. Walter considers himself to be a loving family man and that is why he is willing to withstand jokes and disrespect. Another component of Jung’s theory of personality is attitudes and functions.
According to this, personalities can be divided into two main categories: extrovert and introvert. The extrovert is very outward, tends to be sociable, outgoing, and uses the environment as a resource. The introvert looks inward for guidance, is imaginative, and is more interested in ideas rather than people or socialization. These attitudes can be further divided into rational and irrational functions. The rational functions are thinking and feeling while the irrational functions are sensing and intuiting. Thinking functions identify an object while feeling determines the object’s worth.
Sensing functions detect the presence of an object while intuiting infers information about the object. Jung theorized that in most people one attitude and one function become dominant over their counterparts. This forms the eight personality types, from the eight possible combinations of attitude and function. Walter White and his alter-ego, Heisenberg, seem to display different traits and can be explained with multiple attitudes and functions. Walter White would be labeled a classic introvert by Jung. He is a quiet man who avoids social interactions and prefers independence.
When in social situations, he seems to expend a large amount of energy trying to interact with others, leaving him exhausted after a dinner party or teacher conference. Walter’s lack of emotional feeling and his high intelligence would contribute also to high levels of the thinking function. He relies on logic when making decisions rather than considering the affective consequences. Walter would also be described as investing a large amount of libido in the persona archetype. His public face is very different from how he is truly feeling on the inside.
Following Jung’s principle of equivalence, increased libido in one area constitutes equally decreased libido in another area. Walter’s shadow archetype is extremely suppressed. Aggression is nonexistent in his life, shown through his career and his wiliness to accept the mundane. He does not allow himself to feel the anger and resentment that a normal person would feel in embarrassing or belittling situations. Both the high level of persona and the low level of shadow would be considered unhealthy allocations of libido. Walter’s breaking point comes with his diagnosis of lung cancer.
This terminal cancer has come to a man who has never smoked in his life and has made himself miserable for the sake of his family for years. This is what causes the bottle of lifelong resentment and hatred to start leaking. Jung could describe this as a disturbance of the ego portion of the psyche. The ego is the organizer of the consciousness and a lot of libido is expended on maintaining a lifestyle. Walter’s work for his family gained him the rewards of less than desirable jobs and cancer. This blow to the ego is shown to be very traumatic and shakes the foundation of his psyche and personality.
Walter begins an expedition of morally wrong decisions following his diagnosis, starting with the decision to produce and sell crystal meth to earn money. The decreased moral judgment can be described as the persona archetype fading in strength. The persona regulates which behaviors, attitudes, and emotions are appropriate in a given social situation. The decrease in persona in slow at first. Walter decides to become a drug dealer (not a morally right decision) but his motivation is to earn money so he doesn’t send his family into debt with his cancer treatment (clinging to morally right reasoning).
In the beginning, Walter states he’s only in the meth business until he earns enough money for his treatment, then he’s going to quit. Through the seasons, however, the viewer watches as Walter dives deeper and deeper into the drug business, and with that his shadow archetype comes to dominate. Walter uses his knowledge of chemistry to produce the most pure and desirable crystal meth that drug lords have ever seen. He moves up the ranks by using Jesse’s familiarity of the processes and organizations of hierarchies in the drug business.
When dealing with shady people, it is inevitable that there will be conflict. Exciting, illicit endeavors marked by tasteful gore and the suspense of avoiding arrest constantly surrounds Walter. Being so popular, being enthralled with excitement, and doing the wrong thing are drastically different than the life he has been leading for so long. Walter gets high off this rush, while the druggies get high off his crystal. This, combined with the massive amounts of money he is now making, leads Walter to become addicted to the lifestyle and unable to walk away.
He isn’t given the chance to walk away very often though, with higher-ups constantly threatening his and his family’s lives if he were to quit producing crystal. The deeper Walter sinks into this new world and the more exposure he gets to the adrenaline, the more he changes and splits from his former self. Once Walter begins to make a splash in the drug business, he adopts the pseudonym “Heisenberg”, a throwback to his chemistry knowledge with the use of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Symbolically, however, there is deeper meaning.
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that one can never know both the exact position and momentum of a particle at the same time. Similarly, throughout the show it is never clear whether Walter is still a good guy at heart or if he has gone over to the dark side. Walter and Heisenberg represent a classic Jekyll and Hyde scenario. This can be thought of as a Jungian complex, stemming from the personal unconscious. This precarious balancing act goes on for awhile until Walter eventually throws himself entirely into his new life. Heisenberg develops into a completely different person than Walter White.
When Heisenberg assumes his drug dealer persona, he commits acts that were previously unthinkable to Walter. Aside from selling crystal meth, Heisenberg murders multiple people, disposing of their bodies and any evidence by dissolving everything in hydrofluoric acid. He steals, lies, and manipulates others to no end. He set off a bomb in a building and another separate time in a car. He will do anything to protect his image as the new head drug kingpin, including poisoning an innocent boy and blaming it on another competitor to gain allies.
He even fakes a fugue state to explain a 3-day disappearance from home, when he was actually cooking meth the entire time. A grandiose, God complex has formed in Heisenberg’s personal unconscious, as demonstrated in his never-ending search for more power and his belief that he is untouchable by any other competitor. He bluntly displays this by buying out the car wash he used to work at and using it as a fence to launder his drug money. He robs his former boss of employment, the same boss that used to make him feel like he had no more worth than dirt, and makes it clear that Heisenberg is now the king and everyone else is his subordinate.
Perhaps the most appalling change is his motivation. Walter White -family man-transformed into power-hungry Heisenberg who does not flinch at the idea of carrying out his business at the expense of his family. Instead of performing illegal activities for the benefit of his family, he uses his family to benefit himself. He is persistently emotionally abusive toward Skylar and manipulates her into using her accounting skills to come into his drug business and help launder his money. His brother-in-law, Hank, is a DEA agent specifically assigned to Heisenberg’s case but does not know it is actually Walter.
Hank shares case information with Walter who intentionally steers him down wrong paths to avoid detection. This ends up putting Hank’s life in danger multiple times. Heisenberg views his assistant, Jesse, as somewhat of a son. However, he is constantly forcing his will over Jesse and manipulating him to the point where Jesse also loses his set of values. Heisenberg becomes so self-absorbed that he even misses his daughter’s birth because he is busy making a drug drop. Eventually all traces of Walter White are lost and Heisenberg has completely taken over.
In Jung’s theory of the ego, he states that when too little libido is invested in the persona the result is an inability to maintain reality. The personality change from Walter White to Heisenberg can be explained by shifts of libido. Decreased persona libido is shown when Walter’s two lives mold together into one; the libido gets drained after trying to hold two separate lives for so long. Libido of the self archetype also shifts. No longer does his self-realization revolve around love and family, but instead around power and authority. Rather than striving to be a suitable head of the house, he strives to be head of the meth industry.
The decreases in these libidos imply a vast increase in another area’s libido – per the principle of equivalence. The shadow archetype experiences an outrageous increase in libido as Heisenberg becomes more evil and more animalistic by demonstrating that he will do anything to maintain power. Jung’s principal of opposites states that every area has its polar opposite that reflects how its partner changes. The opposite of the shadow is typically seen as spirituality. This is directly seen when Walter prays after learning of his diagnosis, then latter Heisenberg has a gun battle within a church.
Spirituality was respected and present in Walter, but becomes nonexistent in Heisenberg as the shadow has taken over. Finally, Walter’s change of personality to Heisenberg even includes changes to his attitudes and functions, the core of the personality. While Walter was an introverted thinker, Heisenberg can be described as an extroverted feeler. All traces of reluctance of social situations are expelled; Heisenberg frequently fraternized with the enemy to learn their secrets. As he moves up the ladder and becomes more powerful, Heisenberg is very extroverted, outlandish, and a show off.
He is the big shot in his world. His function also drastically changed to the opposite of thinking – feeling. The value of objects – or lack thereof – is central to Heisenberg’s personality. His moral system is distorted in a way such that family and people do not hold value but power and money do. This marks the final, fundamental change of the evolution of Walter White to Heisenberg. Rather than understanding this transformation as a development of a single person’s personality, it is more suitable to explain the change of Walter White to Heisenberg as a creation of a new personality.
Evidence of this is in the fact that there is no “center” of the personality that stays constant; everything from libido allocations to fundamental attitudes and functions undergo a radical conversion. If this were a development of personality then this change would not be so drastic and core elements would be relatively stable. Instead, Walter experiences a sort of personality split similar to that seen in the mentally ill. Heisenberg is completely consumed by his new personality and all traces of Walter White are gone. An entirely new person has been created.
The massive shifts of libido and changes to his very ways of thinking and processing environmental stimuli are the Jungian explanations for such an episode. Walter White and his transformation into Heisenberg can also be analyzed through the lens of existentialist theories. It is difficult to give a single definition to existentialism and is best described through commonly held beliefs within the area. Existentialism focuses on the individual and how a person constructs the world they live in, and thusly how that world affects the person.
This interaction is called the object-subject dichotomy. Each person has their own constructed values and structure of meaning. Existence is dynamic and always changing, as people have freedom to decide what objects mean. Living a full life consists of always expanding one’s awareness of the world, but with this comes anxiety and guilt as values are challenged. The ability to deal with this anxiety comes back to the freedom to adjust either one’s values or the way one deals with the issues of life.
A deeper look into the concepts of existentialism will be used to explain how Walter White experienced a complete personality change. People exist in a world that has its own subjective meaning that varies from person to person. A person interacts with the world through three modes of existence: the Umwelt, the Mitwelt, and the Eigenwelt. The Umwelt, meaning “over world”, is the nature and biological underpinnings of the self, including drives and instincts. For Walter, this would include his genetic makeup, such as gender, race, hair color, etc. , as well such things as hunger and thirst.
The Mitwelt, meaning “with world”, is the relation one has with others; it is the social world. This is the world that Walter lives in. His relationships with his family, coworkers, and clients all constitute his Mitwelt. Finally, the Eigenwelt, meaning “own world”, is a person’s consciousness and intellects. This is where decisions and rationalizations are made and it is within the Eigenwelt that Walter struggles with the burden of living two lives. These three worlds exist within a person simultaneously; however, a person can feel an estrangement in one of these modes of existence.
This is called alienation and is characterized by feelings of loneliness and emptiness. Walter embodies alienation before he enters the drug business. He feels unsatisfied with how his life has developed and is tired of his boring, mundane life. He can be said to experience alienation of the Mitwelt because he feels a disconnect between himself and the other people in his life. The implications of this will be discussed further in more detail. Existentialism evaluates the effectiveness of a person’s life by determining if he or she is living an authentic life.
Authenticity pertains to the values a person is living according to and the anxiety and guilt that are present in the person. A person who conforms to the values of others rather than exercising his or her own free will is not said to be effectively living. An authentic life allows a person to expand their consciousness and issues the challenges necessary for personal growth. Also, an authentic life does not contain neurotic anxiety or guilt. A normal amount of each is present, and the person has positive social relationships.
Part of growing as a person and developing consciousness is the anxiety that comes with situations that challenge the person’s values. This anxiety is normal and is healthy. However, this anxiety can turn neurotic when it involves the person repressing their values and conforming to other’s values or responding in a way just because it is the socially expected response for a situation. In the case of Walter White, neurotic anxiety has been taken to the extreme. His boring, “normal” life is actually a conformation to socially accepted values.
He has given up his own values of intellect and pride and substituted them with family man, father values that are not as high on his value hierarchy. He hates the fact that he no longer works at Gray Matter Technologies, a place he was intellectually challenged, received recognition, and did not have to answer to anyone. However, since people have the freedom of choice, at some point Walter was faced with a situation to which he responded with a choice to go with what society expected. This situation may have been trying to decide to have a family to which he felt compelled to do because that was what was normal.
Walter’s feelings of alienation of Mitwelt and the reason he doesn’t feel like he belongs to the world he lives in is because it is a world that has been constructed by other people’s values, not his own. He is now stuck in a place of life where he is pushed around constantly and unappreciated and undervalued. Walter would be said to be experiencing neurotic guilt because he is not living in a way that supports a growth of consciousness. He acts in ways that perpetuate his suppression – he allows his boss to talk down to him, he teaches to kids who don’t respect him.
The large amounts of neurotic anxiety and guilt that has built up in Walter can explain why he reacts the way he does when finally taking an opportunity to adjust his life back to being in line with his most valued ideals. The concept of death provokes a large amount of anxiety for people. The fact that death happens to everyone and is unavoidable makes it a negative event that people have to accept will eventually happen to them. Events, such as death, that are uncontrollable happenings of life are called Thrownness.
This is obviously a scary concept because if people are trying to live full, creative lives then death is something to stay away from if at all possible. Walter is diagnosed with lung cancer and told he only has a few more years of life to expect. This is a circumstance that was inevitable for Walter, it was part of his Destiny. This is considered the breaking point for Walter and when he starts his downslide to Heisenberg. How does this start? Walter’s diagnosis is an anxiety producing event that requires a choice of how to react and alter behavior.
This anxiety is the normal anxiety that would be experienced by anyone who receives this news. However, Walter is aware that he has been living with his neurotic anxiety and guilt for such a long time now. Upon hearing of his impending death, Walter makes the choice to live more according to his true values to reduce the neurotic guilt. Eventually, Heisenberg disbands the social values he has been conforming to for so long and runs his business and family according to his own prideful and self-governing values that he has been longing for so long. But this develops in a series of steps.
The first time Walter doesn’t conform to an expected reaction is when he decides that he is not going to be a burden on his family anymore. Instead, he wants to be financially responsible for his cancer treatment; this is in line with his values of independence and self-provider that have been repressed. When Walter decides to act in a way according to his own values he experiences a small release of guilt that has built up. The decision to be financially supportive of himself has its own anxieties that come along, though, like how he’s going to pay for such an expensive service.
However, these are normal anxieties rather than neurotic and can be dealt with in a constructive way. Each decision Walter makes leads to another circumstance arising that requires another choice of how to react. When considering how to pay for chemotherapy, Walter decides on becoming a meth dealer. This is an extreme departing from a socially acceptable response, however it is in line with Walter’s values. This choice gives Walter the opportunity to exercise his underused intellect. He is finally challenging himself as he applies his chemistry knowledge to the drug industry.
He is also expanding his consciousness by striving for a new understanding of a (drug) industry’s organizational structure and flow. Since the choice is in line with his own values, as deviated they may be from a “normal” way of going about it, Walter again experiences a reduction of neurotic guilt. As Walter delves deeper into Heisenberg’s world, full of new experiences and excitement, he is continuously presented with situations that require a choice of reaction. The more he chooses to follow his own values, the more neurotic anxiety and guilt is reduced.
So the question is: Can an ex high-school teacher turned drug kingpin be said to be living an authentic life? Once Heisenberg fully develops, he is now completely living by his own terms and indulging his values, not conforming to anyone. He is constantly challenging himself in new situations and allowing himself to expand his consciousness. Normal anxieties and guilt are felt in accordance with the day to day hassles of his lifestyle (like dealing with rival gang trying to kill him, or ordering a hit on a defective gang member) but neurotic anxiety and guilt has been minimized.
Heisenberg is no longer experiencing any alienation; he has a solid social structure of employees that he also interacts with on a personal basis. His family values have been moved down the hierarchy, but they are still present. He bonds with his son over expensive cars and he compels his wife to assist him in his financial department, but they make it work. While Heisenberg’s values may be being satisfied in a much more perverse way than the average person, it cannot be said he is conforming to outside pressures. It can be argued he is living an authentic life.
In other words, using May’s stages of consciousness, Walter White broke out of his (extra-)ordinary conscious of a repressed family man, went through a stage of rebellion starting with his diagnosis of cancer and decision to enter the drug industry, and is now experiencing creative consciousness. ***** The strategies of Jungian and Existential theories used to describe the personality of Walter White have some common concepts. Firstly, both theories focus on the present and future of a person’s behavior and personality.
This is most strikingly different from psychoanalytic theories that state personality is the result of early childhood experiences. Existentialism strictly does not take a person’s past to be a predictive factor. Walter’s childhood experiences do not hold merit, what does matter are the present time decisions he makes. Jungian theory also focuses on present time factors, for example the amount of libido in the areas of the psyche and how it is being allocated. However, Jungian perspective does differ in that elements from a person’s past can affect behavior.
Archetypes are schemas that have been inherited through a person’s ancestry. Also, the attitudes and functions that a person comes to be defined by may be influenced by early environmental factors, such as the influences parents had on their child’s beliefs. Secondly, both theories agree that healthy people should strive to realize their potential. Jung’s self archetype longs for a balance between the archetypes, gained by a reduction of conflict across all dimensions. Existentialism states that one should be constantly seeking to increase his or her consciousness and awareness.
A failure to do this results in anxiety and guilt. While this self-realization is the ideal scenario for both theories, it is understood as an impossible thing to achieve. However, it does give some purpose for humans in a world with no meaning; both preach that the world is dependent on the way one chooses to experience it. Other similarities can be found in the organizational structure of the theories. Both are very dynamic theories, with personality having the ability to change and flow. For Jung, personality and behavior are based on how the libido and archetypes relate to a situation.
These can vary given different circumstances; however there are central factors that generally stay consistent: a person’s attitude and function. Existentialism, on the other hand, is more dynamic. A person can be very different from one scenario to the next. This is because people have the freedom of choice and can basically construct their lives however they want to. Some stabilization can be expected in a person living an authentic life, though. Given this, he or she would be expected to make choices consistent with their values, rather than conforming to others.
Furthermore, these theories hold little scientific merit as they are both irrefutable, and therefore unable to be tested by experiments. While there are minor differences within the similarities that Jungian and Existential theories share, there are also more glaring differences. Firstly, Jungian theory utilizes categorization to describe people. People are divided into attitudes and functions; Walter White is described as an introverted thinker. These categorizations are given descriptions of a typical person who fits into that area.
This allows for a commonly understood way of describing oneself. If Walter were to tell someone about himself and he said he was an introverted thinker, people could infer that he prefers to keep to himself rather than be in groups and that he relies on logic rather than emotional feelings to make decisions. Existential theory does not allow for such categorizations. Because people are inherently understood to have a freedom of choice, this makes a predictive system difficult. The closest relation existentialist theory has to categories is whether someone is living an authentic life or not.
However this hardly allows for predictive value. A person rarely knows the complete value system of another and which values are most prevalent in each circumstance. Even if this was given, an authentic lifestyle is not guaranteed to be a continuous process. The freedom of choice in existentialism inserts a feeling of chaos into the world. This is most obviously displayed in Walter who would be the last person thought to become a drug dealer. However, his freedom of choice and decision to change to abiding by his values is what enabled him to make that unpredictable choice.
Another major difference in these two theories is the influence that the unconscious has on the person. In existentialism, many aspects of the person are elements of which he or she is aware. Walter knows his value set and could articulate them if asked. The neurotic anxiety and guilt he was experiencing prior to his change was a conscious feeling also. The decisions he made to enter and dive deeper into the drug business were consciously made decisions. The only influence of the unconscious, according to May.