Chapter for Edited Collection: Death in Supernatural

The original abstract:

Wheelin’ and Dealing: Crossroads Mythology and Soul Debt in Supernatural

Keywords: Death, crossroads, Dean Winchester, soul debt, eternity, salvation.

The consequences which actions undertaken in mortal life have upon the soul in eternity are paramount in Supernatural. For members on the Family Winchester particularly, the soul is the most valuable asset with which an individual can trade. Despite the fact that soul transactions invariably end in premature death and damnation, the contemplation of an eternity in Hell seems a small sacrifice when one is confronted with problems in the here and now. Perhaps this response is the result of a misunderstanding of Hell and of what it means to die. Then again, such a cavalier attitude might simply spring from underestimating the importance and fragility of the soul to begin with. Conversely, it may just be old fashioned arrogance that enables one to barter in a currency with which they have so little comprehension. In any case, relationships between soul debt and death are not only essential to the way that the characters of Supernatural interact with each other and their world; but form the underpinning themes within the series.

This chapter will explore the changing attitude of Dean Winchester in relation to the act of soul selling and soul debt. It will consider how the experience of selling his soul and going to Hell changes Dean; and how his interactions with Death open up a deeper discussion on the soul. Specifically, Dean’s relationship with Death questions whether, once damned, the soul can be redeemed and, if so, at what price. The analysis will be framed by consideration of the historical and cultural grounding around the act of deal making, with particular attention given to the symbolism of crossroads summoning to Southern history and culture. Considering that, in folklore belief, deal making is rarely beneficial to the mortal party; the human motivations which are seen to necessitate it will be examined closely. Within the context of Supernatural, this is framed by a consideration of how, upon realizing that death is not an end but a transition, Dean transforms his understanding of death and the role it plays in fate and destiny. In addition, it will examine how experiences in Hell and interactions with Reapers, influence Dean’s stance in relation to the repatriation of Sam’s soul from The Cage and his attitude about the possibility of his own salvation.

Dean Winchester has been chosen as a focal point because he begins his journey in staunch opposition to the act of deal making; being resentful of the deal which John makes in order to save him, before succumbing to a deal himself, in order to save Sam. The story arc, in seasons three and four, in which Dean’s deal must be paid, presents not only a dramatic shift in his attitude about death and dying, but also his concept of Hell and the true cost associated with soul debt. Discussion on later seasons will consider the renewed importance which Dean places on soul value, as well as his understanding of fate and eternity within the universe of Supernatural, which is largely developed from his relationship with Death and on-going dedication to Sam.

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