Handout: Dead Poets Society
Film: Dead Poets Society (1989)
Though this film is set at a boys’ preparatory school, it raises issues pertinent to higher education.
Trivia: John Keating is modeled after Sam Pickering, professor of English at UConn. Pickering was one of my English professors as a freshman at Dartmouth those many years ago!
Questions to consider; please add your own!
1 The “four pillars” of Welton Academy are tradition, honor, discipline, and excellence. How are these characteristics exhibited by:
-main or secondary characters?
-symbolic or iconic images used by the filmmaker?
2 Does this film have a “message”?
3 How does the institution (Welton Academy) mediate the relationship between students and their parents?
4 Describe John Keating’s pedagogy, and comment on it.
5 Describe how Keating’s various exhortations are interpreted by different students, especially his repetition of “carpe diem.”
6 Mr. Nolan admonished John Keating by saying that boys at this age (17) are very impressionable, and that tradition and discipline are central to their education. Keating counters by saying that thinking for oneself and free thinking are vital. Comment.
7 Neil, in the final soliloquy as Puck in the production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, states:
If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended, That you have but slumber'd here While these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream, Gentles, do not reprehend: if you pardon, we will mend: And, as I am an honest Puck, If we have unearned luck Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue, We will make amends ere long; Else the Puck a liar call; So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.
Comment upon this text in relationship to Neil and the film, and how the filmmaker shows this scene.
8 Comment upon how the institution handles a tragedy, and compare it to your own experiences or knowledge of such at Purdue or elsewhere, or to what you have learned here at Purdue or elsewhere about such topics.
9 Richard Cameron (red headed student) cites the Welton Honor Code and asks his fellow students “why ruin our lives?” in relation to what develops late in the film. Comment.
10 Who developed or changed the most in this film, and what led to these changes?