Does anyone else find it a little sad that Dean is the only Winchester to identify the “family business” as “saving people, hunting things,” where saving people is the first priority? It wasn’t John’s priority. He was on a vendetta against the “thing” that killed Mary and anything evil that got in his way got ganked. Saving people was a happy by-product of his true aim: revenge.
After Dean gives his now-famous line, Sam counters with “…I gotta find Jessica’s killer. It’s the only thing I can think about.” For Sam, saving people didn’t come first, like John, hunting was a means to an end, in the earliest seasons.
But for Dean, a character whose entire sense of self had been sublimated into a need to save and protect others, “saving people” came first. His need to save everyone, especially in those earlier seasons, came directly from what he believed his father wanted to achieve as a hunter. He believed that John’s goals were to save people, first and foremost. And so, Dean believed if he just saved enough people, if he protected Sammy well enough, John would be proud of him. And if Dean saved people, other children wouldn’t have to go through losing a parent to monsters and demons like he did. Other families wouldn’t be torn apart at the hands of evil.
But Dean could never make John proud by saving people, because that’s not what John valued. And there is no way to save everyone, so Dean could only ever fail in his goal of saving people. Dean’s tragedy is that even his laudable traits are turned against him, increasing his self-loathing through guilt and blame for his failure to meet an impossible standard. No wonder it’s such a crushing burden.
A very accurate observation. Dean has always been the odd one out when it comes to hunting. Hunters are not these normal, selfless people who pick up a gun and put their lives at risk to protect people from creatures and monsters whose existence they aren’t even aware of; they all have some sort of personal tragedy driving them. Dean, on the other hand, has had no personal reason to do what he’s been doing 30 years of his life, (I don’t mean to undermine the damage Mary’s death did to him, but he barely knew her) other than the fact that he thought that’s what John wanted from him, that’s what would make his father proud (Dean has always had to mold himself to being whatever Sam and John have needed). I like to think part of what made him the righteous man is the fact that his motivation for hunting could always end up being something other than hatred or revenge or bitterness.