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Dead Poets Society in Formalism Critique Approach

The Dead Poets Society is a 1989 American drama directed by Peter Weir and starring Robin Williams. Set at the conservative and aristocratic Welton Academy in Vermont in 1959. It tells an English teacher who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry. Dead Poets Society narrates a story about a teacher, Mr. Keating, and a group of students happened in a conservative preparatory school–Welton. It tells a brave reformation led by Mr. Keating invisibly which would change conformity to individual and unrepressed.

However, the efforts didn’t bring success in that traditional environment. The movie turns out to be a tragedy. The movie is by all means a success from different perspectives and deserves spectacular probe from various angles. This is an innovation initiated by poetry appreciation. The movie was critically acclaimed and nominated for many awards.

Dead Poets Society explores the conflict between realism and romanticism as these contrasting ideals are presented to the students at an all-boys preparatory school.

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In the movie of “Dead Poets Society”, we see the culture of the Welton academy had very traditional and reflecting one of the most significant way which was influenced to the student and other social group. However, the movie showed that Welton Academy was closely bound to the students families which were usually provided generation to generations of their forefathers had attended the school so that students automatically had to follow their tradition and principle like tradition, honor, discipline and excellence. John Keating, an unorthodox teacher at an all-male prep school in New England, wants to convey to his impressionable students.

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Keating is an alumnus of the school, Welton Academy, and hopes to make his students as curious and iconoclastic as he was (as is).

Keating encourages them to “suck the marrow out of life,” pursue their dreams, and find their voice. He does so with unusual teaching methods, such as tearing pages from textbooks, kicking soccer balls while shouting poetry, and standing on desks to gain a different perspective. These approaches are frowned upon by the administrators at conservative Welton, whose creed is “Tradition, Honor, Discipline, and Excellence.” Many of the students are captivated by Keating’s ideas and ideals. At his prompting, they form a secret club called the Dead Poets Society (DPS), whose primary activity is reading poetry in a cave in the middle of the night. Many of the DPS members experiment with “risky shift” behaviors, due in part to the effect of group polarization.

Charlie Dalton, an already extroverted student, assumes a new identity as “Norwanda” and becomes the DPS’s daredevil leader. Knox Overstreet, a quiet student, chases (and ultimately catches) a football player’s girlfriend. Todd Anderson, a shy boy who is in his brother’s shadow at home, gains a sense of acceptance, confidence, and self-worth. Most notably, Neil Perry joins a local ng theater production and falls in love with acting. This leads to a confrontation with his authoritarian father. When the conflict seems unresolvable, Neil commits suicide. The school fires Keating, charging that he is responsible for Neil’s death because he incited the boys to rebellion. As Keating leaves the school, the boys demonstrate their loyalty to him (and defiance of the administration) by standing on their desks and calling him “Captain.”

Peter Weir is an Australian director credited in part with revitalizing the Australian film industry through the Australian New Wave Cinema movement, a state- and government-funded effort to reinvigorate Australian film production after a near total stand-still following World War II. The film journal Senses of Cinema describes Weir’s film style as one where “generic conventions border on the iconoclastic, alternative realities and cultural incompatibilities abound, and numinous yearnings challenge staid conventionalities.”

This description is consistent with the story and themes of Dead Poets Society, in which iconoclasm is at the forefront of the film’s central conflict, the formation of a group in which students think and create on their own and for themselves. To be sure, the film also showcases cultural incompatibilities when Keating’s unique teaching methods clash with the Welton administration’s straight-nosed ideologies. And of course, the central conflict of the film is about challenging staid conventionalities when the boys choose to defy what is expected of them, particularly Neil when he chooses to pursue acting against his father’s wishes. One thing that the members of the Dead Poet Society had in common was the fact that they’re parents choose their future for them. They had no input on what they would do later in life or what they may be interested in. They felt inferior to everyone around them aside from Mr. Keating.

The Dead Poet Society is very inspirational movie it really shows how those boys’ lives were changed from the arrogant, rich, petty lives they had in the beginning, to the wise and inspired attitude they had in the end. John Keating, really showed the boys the true way of how to interpret poetry and he taught them in a way that inspired them and encouraged them to do better. Leadership is important not only for yourself as an individual, but it also has a major impact on others around you. In the end, leadership can have a negative or a positive effect on anyone. It is how you act on leadership that makes your way of leading affective. In addition to, the movie “Dead Poet Society” opens our eyes of the literature and how each poem conveys deeper meanings. Nowadays, people perceive poems as corny for bookworms.

Logically, the movie develops naturally from the very splendid and spectacular beginning to the gloomy and grief-stricken ending, which throws us into constant ponderation. The plots are arranged ingeniously and the well-knit plots go within the audience’s expectation that the conservative school is changing to a lively atmosphere but can also predicate the suspense that the “wave rider” Mr. Keating is doomed to be crucified. The plots spread from the tedious and rigid Latin and math classes shifted sharply to the ripping books and “seize the day” education, followed by the exploration and recreation of the Dead Poets Society, a secret club which meets in a cave in order to discuss poetry, philosophy and other topics, just like Mr. Keating did before.

Then, the scene is shifted to the students encouraged by their captain standing on the desk to view the world from a new angle and the barbaric yawping for inspiration of the soul. Then the watching of his own pacing like Frost3, the great poet choosing his road then, Neil’s secret and exciting play wins spectacular success except the denies of his overbearing father, followed by Nei’s suicide signaled as the climax of the movie when all the conflicts get aggravated and intensified and finally burst out. Eventually comes the winding up of the innovation, here the neglect and indifference of the situation are vividly demonstrated. However, all the positive encouragement and trials by Mr. Keating meet absolute deny by the authority. These trials accepted by the students are embodiment of their pursuits and dreams, however, are harshly destroyed by the conservatives. Their dreams are by no means accepted by the so-called orthodox.

The movie is not also all about poem. In addition to, it also encouraged us to achieve what we want despite of hindrances in life. We may experience obstacles that will go in our way to success, the way we handle these challenges/hindrances in life shapes who we are. Leadership is not innate; it is something that is nurtured throughout life.

The final message of the film is the transcendentalist ideal that a man should think for himself and be self-reliant. Just like Mr. Keating taught every boy in his English class to be free thinkers, so must all individuals. When faced with conformity that does not distinguish between man and society, it is man’s responsibility to himself to stand up for what he believes is right, and not what others tell him is just. Carpe diem “seize the day” one of Mr. 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. It’s ok to talk and dream, but in the end, it’s action that will allow you to grab the prize. You must encourage action in your people. All of the talking, planning, and strategizing will get you nowhere unless you put them into action. Dead Poets society is really a significant story that influences lots of educators or the public.

Reference List(s):

  • Lanzendorfer, Joy. 15 Facts About Dead Poets Society On Its 30th Anniversary. Mental Floss, 1 June 2019,



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Dead Poets Society in Formalism Critique Approach. (2019, Nov 28). Retrieved from

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