Dead Poets Society


directed by Peter Weir



Travesty, Horror, Decadence, Excrement

1) What kind of school is Welton? Do the boys respect it? Are they happy there?

2) Why doesn't Mr. Perry want Neil to be involved in extracurricular activities? Is he simply concerned that Neil's grades will suffer, inasmuch as Neil says he "always takes on too much."?

Captain Keating

1) Why does Keating ask his students to look at the trophies and the pictures of past football players at Welton?

2) What message does Keating intend to give his students when he tells them that we are "food for worms"?

3) What do you make of Keating's encouraging the boys to 'seize the day,' and to make their lives 'extraordinary'? Are these ends in tension, that is, does living for the day conflict with the aim to make one's life extraordinary?

4) Is Keating's life extraordinary? How so or why not? Why do you think that Mr. Keating became an English teacher?

A Realist and a Romantic

1) Is Mr. McAllister right to be concerned that Mr. Keating's approach is misguided? Is his concern that the boys cannot all be extraordinary artists like Rembrandt and Mozart a valid one?

2) Why does Keating distinguish between artists and free thinkers? What does he mean by this distinction?

3) Why does Keating call McAllister a cynic? Is he a cynic, or a realist, as he himself suggests?

4) McAllister speaks of a happy man, and Keating of a free one. Is happiness in tension with freedom?

5) While McAllister claims to be a realist, Keating makes a joke about his own connection with his namesake, the Romantic poet John Keating? Does the distinction between realism and romanticism capture the difference between the two men?

6) How would you describe the relationship between McAllister and Keating? Are they friends, in spite of the differences they express? In what ways do they respect each other?

Dead Poets

1) Is Keating being reckless or misguided by encouraging these boys to establish this secret society?

2) Who were the Dead Poets? Why are they the romantic poets, and seemly only the romantic poets? How did the Dead Poets Society "create" gods, as Keating says?

3) Consider the opening passage of the society by Thoreau. What does it mean to live deliberately, to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"?

Being in the Club Means…. You've got to Do Something

1) What message has Neil derived from Keating's 'carpe diem'? What does being in the club mean to him?

2) Neil asks Todd whose side he's on. Who side do you think Todd is on? Why?

3) What is it that Neil wants from Todd? Does he reveal that he has understood Keating's message in his advice to Todd?

4) Is Neil being a good friend to Todd? Vice versa?

Our Own Words and Yawps

1) Consider Keating's approach these boys, their shyness, anxiety or disinterestedness. Is he a good teacher? Why or why not?

A Different Drummer

1) Why do the boys' walks turn into a march? Why do the other boys clap and Keating sing a military cadence? What is this exercise designed to show the boys?

2) What do you suppose Mr. Nolan is thinking, as he watches from the window?

3) Keating says, "you must trust that your beliefs are unique, your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular, even though the herd may go, "That's baaaaad." What does he mean?

Deception Revealed

1) Why does Neil feel trapped?

2) How realistic is Keating's advice? Is it helpful for Neil?

Mr. Keating, responsible?

1) Why does Neil kill himself? Who is responsible for his death?

2) Welton has the boys come together for a service, and they all sing a hymn together. Why? What purpose does a communal service serve? How does singing contribute to that purpose? How does this activity -- done both in unison and in harmony -- reflect back on the boys marching in unison in the courtyard?

1) Charlie senses that Welton, and Mr. Nolan, will seek a scapegoat for Neil's death. But what he doesn't foresee is that Mr. Keating may be considered culpable. Why not? Cameron, alternatively, sees Mr. Keating's hand in Neil's death. And, Todd is bewildered. Compare and contrast the responses of these three boys to Neil's death. Why do they react so differently? What is Mr. Keating's responsibility here?

Goodbye, Captain

1) How realistic is the Mr. Nolan character?

2) What inspires Todd's outburst. What is it that he wants Keating to know?


1) Discuss Dead Poets Society and Thoreau. Is Thoreau a good model for Mr. Keating to present to his students in Dead Poets Society? Why or why not? What does the film add to your understanding of Thoreau?

2) Keating quotes Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken." Look at the poem yourself. What is Frost's message there? Does it differ from Keating's message, which focuses on the last lines of the poem, "I took the [road] less traveled by, And that has made all the difference?"

3) How does Frost in "Carpe Diem," reflect on the advice to "seize the day," or to live in the present? Frost also taught English at a private academy. What kind of teacher might he have been?


Dead Poets — Guide to Unit 3 — Back to Unit 3