Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What do you think about Mr Keating's teaching methods? Is it a good way to teach the boys, considering their age and apparent immaturity?

    Mr Keating's teaching methods are very unusual and go against the conventional values at that time. They encourages the students to think for themselves. His methods are also risky, as they're experimental and untested when he applies them to the boys' education. However, only time can tell if it is a suitable way to teach the boys. Sadly, Keating is expelled too soon. The results are mixed: the boys have clearly been inspired, and yet they run into trouble, in Neil's case deadly trouble. The film thus leaves this crucial question unanswered.

  2. 2

    The viewer is constantly reminded of the motto carpe diem. Is Neil's interpretation of these words correct or not?

    The motto carpe diem may be slightly misguiding—literally it means "seize the day". The immature mind may become harsh in his/her judgement. Neil's interpretation is very radical, and this displays how dangerous language can be when not used correctly.

  3. 3

    As mentioned in an exchange between Mr. Keating and another teacher of the school, there are "realists" and there are "artists." What is the difference between them?

    A realist is more pragmatic and more attuned to the current situation of society. An artist is relatively more idealistic, independent and unfettered.

  4. 4

    Discuss how the themes of discipline and rebellion interact in Dead Poets Society.

    Welton prides itself on adherence to strict tradition and rules, and those who fail to adhere to them properly face punishment. Thus, the threat of discipline is present in every aspect of the Welton boys' lives, from being out of bed after hours to leaving the campus without permission. This threat is not formidable enough to stop them, however, once they decide to form the Dead Poets Society and meet in the old Indian cave nearby, as their desire to "live deliberately," according to the Thoreau quote, outweighs their fear of getting caught. Thus, despite the natural initial apprehension on the part of a few of them, they all engage in a little rebellion to make the Society a reality.

  5. 5

    How would you characterize the tone of Dead Poets Society, broadly and at specific moments?

    The overarching tone of the film is a serious one; at few points are you made to laugh aloud, and indeed, nowhere is comedy the film's end goal. Even with a famously comedic actor like Robin Williams playing Keating, his character is portrayed as wise and insightful, with moments of theatrics meant to humor the students on screen, less so the viewers watching them. The subject matter of the film, too, indicates a serious tone, including elements of coming of age drama, family discord, and suicide. While certain scenes boast a more joyous air, like when Meeks and Pitts dance to their radio on the school roof, or when the boys lift Keating into the air while Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" plays over the scene, the general tone of the film remains mature and, ultimately, rather somber.

  6. 6

    Explore Keating's influence on his students and how his encouragement of originality and "carpe diem" affect them.

    Keating's enchantment of the boys is apparent from his very first lesson, when he encourages them to "make their lives extraordinary." It isn't long into the term that the boys begin acting uncharacteristically courageously and, at times, defiantly in pursuit of what makes them passionate. Knox, for example, gathers up the courage to call Chris Noel, and eventually to woo her when he otherwise might have been too hesitant. Neil is inspired to audition for A Midsummer Night's Dream despite his father's warden-like hold over him. And the boys as a whole are encouraged by Mr. Keating's example to form the Dead Poets Society, the meetings for which entail breaking multiple school rules, a fact which isn't lost on even the more naturally rebellious among them, like Charlie. That they are all willing to defy the administration and form the club against their better judgement is testament to the incredible influence that Keating had on them.

  7. 7

    Discuss the Thoreau quote that the boys invoke at the start of each Society meeting and how it relates to their own experience.

    The Thoreau quote comes from his 1854 book Walden, which details his more than two years spent alone in a small cabin by Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. The quote refers to living simply and with purpose, and reflects what the boys themselves do through the Dead Poets Society: going to the woods to recite poetry to one another, and eventually to express themselves in other ways, including storytelling, dancing, and playing the saxophone. Many of the boys feel that the academic shackles that hold them are unjust, and some, especially Neil, fear that when it's their time to die and begin "fertilizing daffodils," as Mr. Keating glibly put it, that they will "discover that [they] had not lived." The quote therefore highlights a parallel between the boys' and Thoreau's own desire to be self-reliant and deliberate about their lives.

  8. 8

    Discuss the Walt Whitman quote "O Captain! My Captain!" and its use as a reference to Mr. Keating.

    Mr. Keating himself dares the boys to refer to him by the above Whitman quote. Whitman wrote "O Captain! My Captain!" about President Abraham Lincoln following his assassination in 1865. The poem, one of the most well-known poems ever written, is classified as an elegy to the late president. That the students use it to refer to Mr. Keating, particularly in the iconic final scene of the film in which they proclaim it as they stand on their desks, draws a direct parallel between Lincoln and Keating as revered men gone too soon—in Lincoln's case, referring to his death, and in Keating's, to his being fired.