Submerged under the grand history of humanity’s heroic stand against its monstrous oppressors lies the tale of Eren Yeager; a dream of an ineluctable search for wings clipped from birth. The world weaved by Hajime Isayama is ridden with palpable tension and tragedy, its inhabitants living in constant fear of the menace that lies beyond the walls, the titans, monsters of grotesque yet eerily familiar features. To its dwellers, The Walls are salvation but also a cage that irremediably confines them to the shadow of a life restrained in choice and thin of freedom. There is no greater urge in young Eren that to break free of this cage, to surmount the titans, and finally guide his kin to flock towards clearer skies. Yet, as he would come to realise, true freedom would grow irremediably illusory as time passes.
When we first meet Eren Yeager he is introduced to us as a brash child with implacable zeal to rid the world of the titans that loiter behind the walls. He loathes those that would laugh or repudiate the work of the survey corps; the sight of devastated men that follows expeditions beyond the walls only serve to steel his resolution. He is animated by an unusual yet familiar drive; unwavering curiosity. He is in stern opposition to the stifling imprisonment to which the inhabitants of the walls are subject, there is a primal urge in him to break the mould and reach what is so constantly denied to them; he is earnest to a fault in his desire to free humanity and learn what lies beyond the wall.
“I want to see and understand the world outside. I don’t want to die inside these walls without knowing what’s out there.” – Eren Jaeger
Whether it is that attraction that moulds him to be what he is or an inherent nature that creates the obsession we cannot know, but Eren is from a young age animated by strong moral views on justice. When he comes to the aid of the then-unknown Mikasa and kills the murders of her parents in self-defence, we bear witness to a chilling display of cold-bloodedness; he strikes down with little hesitance and remorse what he considers evil. Eren Yeager is a study on the perception of morality; one that progresses from an innocent monochromatic view to a blurred and muddled confusion at the realisation of the complexities of the world.
These views stem from his upbringing within The Walls, a result of having knowledge and awareness continuously limited and skewered towards a sole focal point, titans. This would be further compounded with the events of the fall of Wall Maria to the point of obsessiveness. The loss of Shiganshina and the death of his mother would serve to cement and validate his perception of the titans as absolute enemies to be taken out for humanity’s protection; rather than the obstacle titans have become the goal.
It could well be posited that Eren’s personality is affected by two complexes, the first is a saviour complex, as exemplified by Eren’s constant guardianship of Armin as a child and later in life, his drive to take the lead as a cadet during the Battle of Trost district and his eagerness to be of use to the survey corps as a titan power wielder.
It is this aspect of him, following the death of a comrade, that pushes Eren’s illogical initiative at the onset of the Trost conflict, that contributes to the decimation of his squad and the endangerment of his own life. He has shown a tendency to abandon reason when confronted with the objects of his obsession; those being killing titans and endorsing the role of protector. His near-death in Trost and how he acquires his titan power undoubtedly resonates in the later development of his character.
“How dare you kills Thomas! I’ll never let you escape!” – Eren Yeager
The second of the complexes that adorn our protagonist is a likely inferiority complex that stands in stark contrast to his grander ambitions. Growing up in the shadow of the overwhelmingly stronger Mikasa frustrates his ego in that he is unable to fully realise his heroic aspiration of protection and self-sacrifice, being constantly saved himself by Mikasa. This plays into his compulsion to prove himself, his blunder at Trost and the eagerness he feels upon becoming a titan.
The events following his transformation would however slowly and steadily chip away at this confidence. Despite his redemption by defeating the Female Titan, the death of the Levy squad looms on his mind. As the story progresses, he becomes irremediably conscious of his shortcomings as a titan, wishing that someone more useful had inherited the power, a feeling exacerbated when he learns of his consumption of his father and how the latter stole the Founding Titan’s power from the Reiss family; illegitimacy undermines his beliefs. He encounters progress, only to be grounded upon the realisation of the cruelty of the world and his helplessness, prisoner of a vicious pattern. Again, despite his performance against Reiner in their fight, he is once again shot down to reality due to his abduction and the subsequent death of Hannes during his rescue effort. He feels trapped in an unending cycle.
The culmination of the stress, shortcomings and the realisation of the burden he could be on his teammates ultimately results in him being eroded to the point of asking to be eaten by Historia, renouncing the idea only when the latter helps him to regain his composure. Isayama has been skilful in his constant fleshing out of Eren as a character, mirroring to a close degree how a real flesh being would have felt about the situations he lived through; he moves from a place of newfound confidence and purpose to doubt and anxiety and comes around again in a cycle.
Nothing has changed at all! I can’t do a fucking thing! – Eren Yeager
Attack on Titan is a story of cycles and free will; it asks us to question what it means to be truly free and Eren Yeager is the vehicle of this pondering. He relentlessly fights for what he believes in, yearning for what he sees as the light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, that light is robbed from him again and again, growing ever so oneiric. His beliefs are turned on their head when we grow to understand the true nature of the enemy beyond the wall, a little bit of his world erodes when he comes to realise that that the true enemy, he faces are beings less grotesque and monstrous than those he has been chasing all his life. The betrayal of Reiner and Bertholdt, people he considered friends and comrades, raises incomprehension in him; it is beyond his simpler understanding of the war against the titans.
My dad stole the power of The Titan from its rightful place. How many people died because of him? … I can never atone for it all. – Eren Yeager
The world in Paradis takes on a new hue after the Battle of Shiganshina, at the cost of great sacrifice the foreign enemy has been repelled and the titans are on their way to extinction. In its tenure this postscript evokes in the viewer a sense of conclusion to the gruesome era our protagonist lived in; he has achieved what he so desired. But as a result of the ulterior revelations and as a result of the vision he would seem to receive from his titan ability, the salvation of Eren Yeager once again flickers out of reach.
The shore of the island is bright with the realisation that the gruelling fight for survival has seemingly ended. The sky extending far beyond what could be seen from behind the walls, liberty more abundant than what any of our heroes had ever seen. Yet, with bitter realisation Eren understands that the cage was simply bigger than what they imagined; the cycle of violence remains unbroken and this joy an illusion. It is a swirl of contradiction and emotion that defines the place we leave Eren Yeager at the midpoint of this story, the end he dreamt of is far from what he conceived, and, in many ways, he is more trapped now than he was before, an unwilling traitor to his own ideals.