Self Concept as Depicted in Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad was a show produced and aired by AMC, and was viewed by many television enthusiasts as a global hit. Primarily, the fascination was derived from Walter White, who is featured as the protagonist of the entire television series, which aired between 2008 and 2013. In general, White is depicted as a chemistry teacher who is facing social issues and this results in him resorting to a violent and illegitimate approach towards life, a move that enabled him to make immense amounts of money for his family (Taylor 3). The criminal behavior portrayed by White can be analyzed for a socio-structural and phenomenological angle, giving the viewers a complex moral discourse about the effects of conformity, deviance, and transgression. Also, the lung cancer that White was diagnosed with played a role in his self concept development, leading to his collaboration with Jesse Pinkman, his former student, to build a drug empire that specializes in production, distribution, and sale of crystal methamphetamine. The transformation in his conception of self was mainly motivated by White’s desire to secure financial security for his family before he succumbs to the lung cancer, which was deemed inoperable.

Simply, self-concept can be described as the way an individual perceives, understands, and defines him or herself. Self-concept is an important quality in life since it determines the manner in which an individual directs their life, in addition to acting as a guide in the way other people perceive the individual person. Further, the quality of self-concept influences the relationship that an individual forges around those around him or her, and can also be deemed as a reflection of an individual’s relationship. After all, self-concept determines the manner in which a person is judged by others as being a bully, a hero, a rude, as well as a kind person (Jowett and Lavallee 161). Therefore, the changes that people undergo in various stages of life can result in an alteration of their self-concepts, as was the case with Walter White from the Breaking Bad television series.

In essence, the various changes in White’s conception are evident in many scenes of the film. For instance, in the first season aired in 2008, White is depicted as a chemistry teacher at a high school, who was undergoing various challenges. One of the main challenges included the advanced lung cancer that he was ailing, and Hank Schrader is just a ordinary DEA agent, who also appears to be White’s brother in law. The story takes a twist as soon as Walter forms a partnership with Jesse Pinkman, a former student of his who was fleeing a burst of a meth lab. The meeting with Pinkman causes White to devise a plan in which the two could work together in producing the substance, with White cooking the meth as Pinkman used his street connections to ensure that they made sufficient sales. Therefore, the first season shows a gradual shift of White’s self-concept from a high school teacher to a drug-manufacturing specialist, whose venture could enable him secure a financial fortune for his family. As such, the first season depicts his shift from a law-abiding, hardworking citizen who filed taxes and provided for his family using conventional means to a drug manufacturer whose skills were only known by the addicts who benefited from his substance. White’s knowledge of chemistry gave him an edge over other manufacturers in Albuquerque, enabling his product to keep up with the competition from other producers.

In the second season, which was aired in 2009, White’s medical bills for his lung cancer treatment continue to pose a challenge, and the problems that he and Pinkman were facing with the local drug dealers continue to surmount. The challenges include the frequent arrests made by DEA agents that saw one of the key distributors, Badger, arrested. The arrest prompts White to hire Saul Goodman, a lawyer who becomes a key figure in the building of the drug empire, to assist Badger in getting along with the law enforcement proceedings. Another challenge that Pinkman and White face is the threat of rival gangs, who persecute some of their distributors such as Combo, on the grounds of territorial trespasses in their distribution operations. At the same time, Goodman finds White a new business partner, Gustavo Fring, who was willing to pay over a million dollars every time White manufactured 38 pounds of the substance (Taylor 11). White agrees to collaborate with the new partner and his drug operations take over a large proportion of his life. His commitment to the drug operation was so intense that he even missed the birth of her daughter, an incident that led to her wife growing increasing upset to a point of demanding a divorce. As such, the second season acts as another transformation in the self-concept that White previously had. For example, as a high school instructor, he was always there for his family, and nothing was more important to him than the welfare and company of his family. The connectedness can be seen at the time that Walt was undergoing cancer treatment, and his son even went ahead and developed a website to lobby for finances for the medical bills. However, at the end of the second season, White finds his drug operation to be more important, resulting in the abandonment of his family (Bhattacharya). Also, in the second season, White discovers that he requires to make connections in order to succeed in his venture, and this leads to his inclusion of people such as Goodman and Fring to assist in his expansion, indicating a further progression in his self-conceptualization.

Fundamentally, the third season aired in 2010 begins with Walter’s realization of the role of family in his life, and it is at that point that he develops a desire to reunite with them. His desire to reunite with his family prompts him to make a confession to his wife about his drug activities, in an attempt to repair the bond that was being weakened at a first rate. Nevertheless, the events do not turn out as he expected since the confession only upsets his wife further to a point that she demands that they both make a formal divorce. Gus also raises his offer to three million dollars as White’s compensation for three months of service. On the other hand, Pinkman continued to produce meth on his own as Schrader, who was working with the DEA, continued to gather evidence for arresting him. At one point, Schrader narrowly escapes the murder of some of the gang members who were involved in the drug business, and Pinkman swears to give up White in case he is arrested and convicted. It was at that point that White decides to offer him a position at Fring’s manufacturing plant. Essentially, the third season furthers the changes in self-conceptualization that White was undergoing (Work). The season highlights his change from a drug-manufacturing specialist to an individual who had a longing for the company of a family as well as his former associates such as Pinkman. As such, the season shows his compassionate side that leads to his revelation towards his wife about the source of his money and facilitating Pinkman’s hiring into Fring’s operation.

Further, in the fourth season of the television show, Pinkman murders Gale, a chemist that Fring had planned to serve as a replacement for White during a killing that he had ordered. The killing led to Fring sparing White’s life, though he gives them different roles and enforces stricter rules for them to follow. At the same period, Schrader’s health continues to improve, and he collects evidence that links Gale’s death to Fring, since he believed that he was the major mastermind of the meth operation in the region. It was at that point that Fring realized that the close ties that White has with Schrader could lead to his apprehension, and, as a result, he fires him and notifies him that he was about to execure Schrader’s entire family. The news prompt White to devise a plan to kill Fring, which he succeeds to achieve through a retired cartel by the name of Salamanca, who detonates a bomb, hence committing suicide in the presence of Fring. The events are followed by the destruction of the meth lab and the dismissal of all the illegal immigrants working in the underground plants “Breaking Bad.” Therefore, the season shows the alteration of White’s self-conceptualization from a loving and caring family man and mentor of Pinkman to a lethal killer who is ready to carry out any action to ensure that he was not turned over the law enforcement authorities.

All in all, the majority of the change in his self-conceptualization takes place in the final season, in which White orders the execution of more than 10 inmates who had evidence that would incriminate him to Fring’s operation. He also saw the killing of Schrader, his DEA brother in law, and this led to widespread outcry from his family. Schrader was killed in a desert where he had pursued White upon learning that the wilderness was the place where he had buried over 80 million dollars of his cash. The gang that killed Schrader also managed to steal Whites money, leaving him with only 11 million dollars as a sign of good will. Later on, upon learning that the law enforcement officers were pursuing him, White escaped to hide at a New Hampshire cabin where he continues to struggle with his cancer. He later decides to visit his family and carry out revenge on the gang that stole his money. As such, the season marked his complete final stage in the change of his self-concept, where he viewed himself as a ruthless and dangerous killer, ready to sacrifice anyone who pursued him, including his own relatives (Collins and Susan 18). His death occurred after he succumbed to a bullet injury, marking his transformation from a rational and admirable high school teacher to an unforgiving murderer who had amassed lots of wealth from an illegal drug operation.

Works Cited

Bhattacharya, Sanjiv. “How Breaking Bad Creator Vince Gilligan Invented TV’s Greatest Anti-Hero”. Esquire. N.p., 2013. Web. 31 May 2016.

“Breaking Bad”. AMC. N.p., 2016. Web. 31 May 2016.

Collins, Kelsey, and Susan Alexander. “Cooking Meth and Killing Girlfriends: Audience perception of justifiable crime in the television series Breaking Bad.” (2014).

Jowett, Sophia and David Lavallee. Social Psychology In Sport. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2007. Print.

Taylor, Brandon. “The Pleasure of Walter White’s Grotesque Odyssey: Complex Narrative Escalation in AMC’s Breaking Bad (2008–2013).”Offscreen. com-Cinematic Pleasures 19.5 (2015).

Work, Hazel. “Breaking Bad: The Transgressive Journey Of Walter White” N.p., 2014. Web. 31 May 2016.


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