Society Of Dead Poets Analysis Essay
The first and arguably most important of the four Welton pillars, Welton prides itself on its adherence to tradition. This is evident in the first scene in the film, when the older man in the procession passes the flame of his candle to the young boy in the first row, who passes his flame onto the boy beside him, and so on. Welton’s emphasis on tradition comes into conflict with Mr. Keating’s unconventional lessons and teaching methods, which by their unorthodox nature are inherently opposed to Welton’s traditional values. This conflict reaches a peak when Neil’s dreams of pursuing a less traditional career path, stoked by Keating’s influence, are shattered.
Another of the Welton pillars, the threat of discipline is present in every aspect of the boys’ lives. Punishment for being out of your bedroom after hours or even speaking during study time looms above their heads, and venturing beyond the school’s campus to meet in secret is a violation of school rules and is subject to significant punishment, possibly even expulsion. That the boys choose to form the Dead Poets’ Society anyway speaks to their disregard for the threat of discipline, even though it comes back to bite them once Charlie publishes an article advocating that girls be admitted to Welton.
The boys come up against many potential conflicts with regard to the choices placed before them: Knox must decide whether or not pursue Chris’ affection despite her commitment to Chet; many of the boys, including Todd, must choose whether or not to form the Dead Poets’ Society at all; and Neil must choose whether his love of acting is worth going behind his father’s back. Ultimately, it is when their freedom to choose is taken from them that the boys are the most miserable, particularly in the form of Neil being forced to withdraw from Welton, and the boys having to sign a document implicating Keating in Neil’s suicide.
As teenagers in secondary school, the main group of boys experience a range of coming-of-age events that run the spectrum from the innocent to the downright tragic. Among the more light-hearted of them would be Knox’s pursuit of Chris Noel’s affection, likely the first girl he’s engaged with in a significant romantic way given how infrequently the boys are able to meet girls. Knox discovers the trials and tribulations of attempting to woo a woman, particularly one already involved in a decidedly unhealthy relationship with a jerk like Chet. On the darker end, the boys deal with the hardship of suicide and the mourning that accompanies it when Neil takes his own life, a form of maturation that only tragedy can elicit.
One of Keating’s main, overarching lessons for the boys is the idea of “seizing the day”—that is, making the most of the time they have now and taking advantage of the opportunities available in order to realize their goals. This comes in many forms for the boys: Knox successfully calling up Chris and getting invited to a party; Neil auditioning for and landing a prominent role in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” One could argue that it’s the lesson that stays with the boys most, and the one that the administration is least happy to see the boys embracing.
Going hand-in-hand with the theme of discipline, the boys are only able to form the Dead Poets’ Society by engaging in a bit of rebellion—and in the context of Welton’s strict rules, some pretty consequential rebellion at that. Many of the main characters, like Charlie and Neil, are introduced as being prone to a certain level of rebellion from the film’s beginning, as with their vulgar reinterpretation of the school’s four pillars. Others must work their way up to the idea, like Cameron, Knox, and Todd, who initially hesitate at the idea of forming the Society.
Keating places a particular emphasis on helping the boys to find their own individuality. This come in many forms: he asks them to compose original poetry, sparking an intense episode in which he teaches Todd the power of invoking one’s inner passion in front of the whole class. He also teaches the boys Robert Frost’s “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” through his exercise in which each boy must find their own way to walk. This search for individuality is met with harsh opposition and criticism by the more conservative and traditionalist members of Welton’s faculty.
Individualism in Dead Poet’s Society
by Feross Aboukhadijeh, 11th grade
The movie Dead Poet’s Society explores the concept of individualism in great depth. The numerous conflicts that the characters face throughout the movie demonstrate the fundamental principles of existentialism and transcendentalism. Neil Perry’s suicide, for instance, illustrates the disturbing existential consequences that can transpire when an individual’s authority is allowed to prevail against tradition. On the other hand, however, the triumph of the individual spirit may sometimes have a positive outcome—as in the case of Knox Overstreet, an example of transcendentalism. When Knox becomes obsessed with a certain girl named “Chris”—without actually meeting her—he ends up risking his life to win her heart. In both cases, characters assume individual authority for their choices and stop obeying traditional authority figures; they embark on a trip of self-discovery and individual growth that will have a lasting impact on their futures.
One obvious example of existentialism is Neil Perry’s unfortunate suicide. When Neil Perry decides to pursue a career in the performing arts, rather than in medicine, his father, Mr. Perry, is furious. Unmoved by Neil’s extraordinary performance in the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mr. Perry continues to insist on controlling his son’s life and dictating his every move. But Mr. Perry’s efforts were in vain; Neil had already experienced freedom—a privilege not easily relinquished. Neil eventually stands up to his father, but is unable to communicate his opinions to the increasing tyrannical traditionalist figure that his father has become. Rather than continuing to live a dreary half-life, Neil decides that the only way to gain control is by taking his own life. Though he lost everything in the process, suicide was the only way for Neil to stand up to his father and live life to the fullest (ala “Carpe Diem”). Through the act of suicide, Neil is taking control of his life decisions—and must, as a result, accept the consequences. Neil’s clearly existential actions were a necessary step in his process of self-discovery and individual growth.
On the complete other side of the spectrum is Knox Overstreet, the poster child of transcendentalism—and romanticism, in general. Knox recognizes the vital importance of individualism when he becomes infatuated with “Chris”—a girl that he has never actually met before. Knox, like Neil, recognizes the importance of individual intuition in guiding him through life and helping him make decisions. Knox decides to risk his life by standing up to Chet, Chris’s boyfriend, in a romantic attempt to win Chris’ heart. His numerous attempts do prove to be somewhat effective; Chris does goes to the play with Knox and even holds his hand. In a sense, Knox has succeeded, he has triumphed, and he has prevailed over the authority figure, Chet.
This event serves as a reminder that authority should always act as a guide—never as an absolute power, as in Neil’s unfortunate situation. The only place where one can find out his true identity—their true character—is within himself.
Throughout the movie, there are several situations in which characters acted individually, deliberately disobeying conventional authority, in order to follow their dreams. In some cases, such conflicts had positive outcomes (transcendentalism); in other cases such outbursts of individualism had deadly consequences for reckless individuals, like Neil (existentialism). In either case, however, the process of self-discovery and free thinking was inevitable; after being granted freedom for the first time, both Neil and Knox were reluctant to surrender their new independence without a fight. Neil and Knox’s fearless nonconformity will forever demonstrate the importance and necessity of self-discovery and individual growth to new generations of teenagers to come.
Aboukhadijeh, Feross. "Sample Character Analysis Essay - "Dead Poet's Society"" StudyNotes.org. Study Notes, LLC., 17 Nov. 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2018. <https://www.apstudynotes.org/english/sample-essays/character-analysis-dead-poets-society/>.