The time is 1959, the hundredth anniversary of the founding of Welton Academy. Welton is a sort of Ivy League training school. The boys of Welton Academy are dutiful sons, their lives arranged by Mom and Dad like connecting dots. They need only move assuredly from point A, Welton, to point B, Harvard or Oxford, to point C, a prestigious law firm/corporation/band. However, that does not stop their new English teacher from encouraging them to break the pattern. With a contagious passion for verse and a lust for life, Keating exhorts his students to think for themselves. Then avocation that they strip themselves of prejudices, habits and influences.
Dead Poets Society opens with prep-school boys listening to Mr. Nolan (the evil headmaster) extol the four pillars, all that invokes frightful images of coming of age piffle like class. The school's reputation is based on Tradition, Honor, Discipline, and Excellence, and these tenets are drummed into the boy's everyday. There is no a lot of room left in the students' minds for thought of their own.
The teachers all seem to have come out of the same mold as the school's crusty old buildings. In addition, most of them seem as though there ought to be ivy growing on them as well.
That is part of the reason that John Keating stands out. Of course, anyone who likes to stand on his desk to get a fresh perspective is going to be noticed. However, Keating is different in other excessively. The young English teacher tries to awaken a sense of individuality in his students. He urges them to "seize the day," to live each moment to its fullest.
The students do try to seize their days, both as individuals; bucking the pre-programmed lives that have been laid out for them and as members of the newly revived Dead Poets Society; a collective that Keating helped to found back during his own days at Welton.
However, the boys learn that there is a big difference between seizing the day and being able to hold on to it. Traditions do not die easily at a place like Welton, and they can exact a tragic price.
An iconoclastic teacher can be off-putting to some of his students because he is sure and high-flown and flaky compared with polite and basically bored teachers. The teacher who stands out is usually a talker, and that can worry students who are anxious about exams and want to know what they are going to be graded on. However, Keating is not that kind of teacher; he does not have his students in thrall to him. John Keating is an eager, dedicated teacher with a gift for liberating his students. Crushed, frightened prep-school boys flower in his class. He talks to them about the passions expressed in poetry, and they become embolden. The creative impulses they had kept hidden or did not know they had are released.
Keating is simply a former Welton Academy honors student who has just returned from teaching in England. He arrives on the scene like the first rumblings of Vesuvius. He is supremely tactful;...