Essay Writing Samples

Individual Identity in AMC’s “Mad Men”

AMC’s “Mad Men” is regarded as one of more brilliant television programs released in the modern period. This sample essay by a Ultius professional writer explores the character of Don Draper as he faces serious personal issues over the nature of his identity and how he should view himself in society. It is through the character of Draper that an exploration of the ideas of rationalist identity as seen in Descartes can be conducted.

AMC’s “Mad Men”

Don Draper, the protagonist of the hit AMC television series Mad Men, is the quintessential man; women want him and men want to be him. Characters who come into contact with Don envy him, his family and the successful advertising career that he is achieved. However, as the series progresses we realize as viewers that Don is a man who is deeply unhappy with himself and his life. Don has deep-rooted identity issues which stem from his early childhood and culminate in a stolen identity which haunts him for the rest of his life. Through the analysis of Don’s identity, which is stolen in criminal act reminiscent of the IRS identity theft incident, a comparison can be made to the rationalistic views of how identity can be formed according to Descartes.

Meet Don Draper

Don Draper is, born Dick Whitman, the son of a prostitute who is raised by his father and resentful stepmother. Dick is a daily reminder of his father’s promiscuity to his stepmother. Dick is frequently reminded of this in his childhood and lives an outsiders life within his own family. This inability to form an identity even within his own family makes it so that Dick is able to relate easier to a homeless person passing through his farm rather than his own father. Dick eventually joins the army leaving behind his disconnected family.In the

In the army, Dick steals the identity of a senior army official who dies in front of him. Upon returning to the United States, Dick leaves behind his family at the train station and assumes the identity of Don Draper. This change in identity allows him to pursue a beautiful model and an advertising career which leads to the envied life he lives. However, Don frequently has to hide from his true identity due to both external, the wife of the real Don Draper coming to find him, and internal, his refusal to see or accept his younger brother.

Don often demonstrates a disconnect between what he should be and what he truly is which demonstrates his lack of truly knowing himself. Don has to advertise products and often make them appear to be what they are not. He is skilled in not only the advertising of products but also in the advertising of himself. Don works hard to keep up the appearance of who he should be that it is evident he does not know his true identity.

In order to keep others from finding out about his true identity, Don often keeps others at a distance, even his wife, which indicates that he may doubt his own ability to exist within the life he has created for himself.

“Draper? Who knows anything about that guy? No one’s ever lifted that rock. He could be Batman for all we know.” (Weiner, 2007).

Don’s inability to get close to anyone results in numerous affairs with women who get to know a small part of him before he leaves them. No one knows the real Don Draper because he does not know himself.

Defining oneself

Numerous factors impact Don’s inability to define himself. As a man in the 1960’s he must be a strong provider for his family. Society allows him to demonstrate only a limited set of emotions which is beneficial to him as he often displays very little emotion. Don’s past experiences also have played a factor in shaping his identity. Don is able to acknowledge this through comments he makes about growing up in a whorehouse despite the incongruence with his stolen identity.

Don’s relationship with others also shapes his identity. For his wife, Betty, Don is someone who is glamorous and has a high social status. When Betty discovers Don’s true identity as Dick Whitman she no longer desires him as his social status has diminished in her eyes. Due to these numerous conflicting factors, Don’s sense of identity is compromised.

Don Draper’s sense of his identity could accurately be described through Descartes rationalistic thinking. Descartes used the power of reason as the basis of knowledge.

“For Descartes, our reasoning ability provides the origin of knowledge and final court of judgment in evaluating the accuracy and value of the ideas produced” (South University, 2010 np).

Don Draper tries to base his identity on reason as his identity exists based solely on the name has taken on and what others believe him to be. Don was able to shed his former life by just assuming the life and name of another man. He reasoned that he was now Don Draper because everyone around him believed it to be so. Although Don attempts to use rationalistic thought to prove his new existence Descartes may argue against the validity of this newly formed identity.

Descartes and the soul

Descartes would state that a man’s soul and essence make him what he is not his name.

“That bodily organization gives a man his individual identity: a leg amputee is no less a man, if his body retain all the dispositions needed to preserve this union” (Descartes, 1989 pg VXII).

To Don he may state that despite taking on a new name he will always be Dick. Don encounters this throughout his life as he often finds himself confronted by his past. However, his refusal to easily adapt to his rich life demonstrates that Don will never be able to fully accept himself unless he is able to acknowledge that he is also Dick Whitman.


Descartes may further make this point by demonstrating that that the factors which influenced Don to change his identity are the same factors which will make him unable to leave his true identity behind. “And since bread does not lose its identity despite the fact that the air or other matter contained in its pores is replaced, it is clear that this matter does not belong to the substance of the bread” (Cottingham, 1985 pg 174). Don must be able to recognize his past but also be honest with others about who he is and where has come from.

As Don begins a new relationship with someone in the television series it appears that he may finally be not only acknowledging his past but also accepting it. However, as the series continues to develop the viewers realize that Don continues to fall into his old patterns. This may demonstrate that he has not fully been able to come to terms with who Don Draper is and while he continues to be an enigma for the other character and the viewers he is also a mystery to himself.


Descartes, R. (1989). The passions of the soul. Hackett Publishing Company.

Cottingham, J. (1985). The philosophical writings of Descartes(Vol. 2). Cambridge University Press.

South University Online (2010) PHI2301: Introduction to philosophy: week 2: The self is consciousness (chapter 3.4)Retrieved from

Weiner, M. (2007). Mad Men. Television Series. AMC.

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