How Is Challenge Represented in the Film Dead Poets’ Society?

Dead Poets’ Society directed by Peter Weir is set in the 1950’s at the conservative all-boys preparatory school, Welton Academy where tradition, discipline, honour and excellence are the four principles. Challenge is represented throughout the whole film. Dead Poets’ society tells the story of an English teacher John Keating who challenges and inspires his students including Todd Anderson and Neil Perry to think for themselves, to make their lives ‘extraordinary’ and “[to] be an individual instead of a follower” through his non- traditional, revolutionary teaching methods.

Welton Academy has a new English and poetry teacher, Mr Keating who is unlike any other teacher that has ever taught at the school. Mr Keating challenges the convention of the school by teaching in a different way; he also challenges his students to make their lives their own and to look at the world in a different perspective. “I stand on my desk to remind myself that just when we know something we must look always at it in a different way” Mr Keating tells the boys, this is a lesson in free thinking and non-conformity.

He is challenging the boys to think that there is more than one view to everything, and he is trying to get them to be more unconventional. In Mr. Keating first lesson which is totally unorthodox by Welton standards he tells the students “You can [either] call me Mr. Keating or if you’re feeling slightly more daring O Captain My Captain” a poem by Walt Whitman about Mr. Abraham Lincoln. Mr.

Keating takes the students out of the classroom to focus on the idea of ‘carpe diem’ which in lain means ‘seize the day’ by looking at the pictures of former Welton students in a trophy case. “If you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you, listen, hear it? – – Carpe, – – hear it? Carpe diem” Mr. Keating is challenging the boys to seize the day; he is also challenging them to make their lives ‘extraordinary’. Todd Anderson is a quiet, timid, and shy student who lacks self esteem.

When Todd first arrives at Welton academy he feels like he has to live up to the reputation of his older brother, the valedictorian, which he feels he is going to fail at it. In Mr. Keating’s class, Mr Keating challenges the class to write to create an original poem and recite it in front of the class, for Todd this is a great challenge. When the day came to recite the poems Todd pretended he didn’t write one because he was too afraid, but with Mr.

Keating encouraging and challenging him to speak in front of the class as well as Todd challenging himself he gains what he needs and is able to complete the assignment as well as gain some self confidence, a sense of worth and some courage. Neil Perry is another boy that has been challenged throughout the film. Neil’s relationship with his father is a big misunderstanding and it has lack of communication. Mr. Perry only wanted what was best for his son, and that led to very high expectations for Neil. Mr.

Perry wanted Neil to be a doctor, but this was not what Neil wanted to do. Neil challenged his father’s authority by trying out for the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream which he knows his father would disapprove. All of this led Neil to believe that suicide was the only way to gain control of his life and stand up to his father. All of this is a result of John Keating’s guidance and challenging them to be an individual. Mr Keating touched all of the boy’s lives and he definitely released the self-expression of these students and they will always ‘Seize the Day’.


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