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Pop Culture and the Dark Side of the American DreamCon Men, Gangsters, Drug Lords, and Zombies$
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Paul A. Cantor

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780813177304

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813177304.001.0001

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The Macbeth of Meth

The Macbeth of Meth

Breaking bad and the Tragedy of Walter White

(p.88) 4 The Macbeth of Meth
Pop Culture and the Dark Side of the American Dream

Paul A. Cantor

University Press of Kentucky

This chapter analyzes Walter White, the protagonist of Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad, as a tragic hero by developing a systematic comparison of the television series with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Many regard White as a villain because of all the murders he commits, but Macbeth commits just as many, and yet Shakespeare presents him as a hero, albeit a tragic hero. For Shakespeare the fundamental tragic fact is that all forms of human excellence are not compatible, and a man who is admirable in some respects may yet perform terrible deeds in extreme circumstances. Treating Walter White as a tragic hero is the key to understanding the divided response the character elicited from television audiences. Beginning with the tamest version of the American dream—a middle-class home in the suburbs—Breaking Bad veers off in a more exciting and disturbing direction, as Walter White goes on a bizarre and perverse journey of self-realization and self-fulfillment that goes tragically awry.

Keywords:   Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan, Walter White, Shakespeare, Macbeth, Tragic hero

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