"The Catastrophe of My Personality": "Mad Men" and the Crisis of the Separate Self

Open Access
Evans, Sabrina Suzanne
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Michael Berube, Thesis Supervisor
  • Marcy North, Honors Advisor
  • Mad Men
  • Television
  • Portnoy's Complaint
  • Frank O'Hara
  • Dante
  • The Inferno
  • Rosemary's Baby
  • English
  • Literature
  • Otherness
Since its premiere in 2007, Matthew Weiner’s acclaimed television series Mad Men has left viewers postulating and critics raving: Who is Don Draper, where did he come from, and where is he going? On the surface, Don is a successful creative director at a New York advertising agency, a loving husband and father of three. Behind closed doors, though, Don is an adulterer with an impressive track record, an absentee father to his ex-wife’s children, and a recovering alcoholic with an unpredictable tendency to up-and-leave at any given moment. Time and time again, we see Don try to shake his former identity – as a Korean War deserter and the bastard son of an abusive farmer – in favor of chasing the American dream, but time and time again, he winds up right back where he started. This paper explores Mad Men’s conception of ‘identity’ as a process of rejection and acceptance, incorporating the show’s numerous literary references to discuss the trajectory of its characters’ various, yet similar journeys to self-discovery (The Inferno), its dealings with self-loathing (Portnoy’s Complaint) and alienation (Rosemary’s Baby), and its eventual embrace of the ‘othered’ self (Meditations in an Emergency). When a man walks into a room, he has a million reasons for being anywhere – just ask him. In this paper, not only do we ask, but we also listen to where he’s been and where he’s going.