Dead Poets Society
Identity in Dead Poets Society and Frost’s Poetry
Discovery is the process of unveiling a fresh or renewed understanding of the world which may be the result of an unexpected journey or experience. While relinquishing societal norms can result in the most profound revelations which may be unforeseen yet wonderful, this experience may generate a heightened appreciation for the world around them with a brighter perspective on their outlook of life. Robert Frost’s ‘The Tuft of Flowers’ (TT) and ‘Stopping by woods on a snowy evening’ (SB) explores that an understanding of place and the intellectual experience may result in a greater experience of self through the ramifications of the romanticist settings and the persona’s isolation. Similarly, Peter Weir’s film Dead Poets Society (DPS) explores literature as an outlet for individuals to attain the intellectual and self discoveries with a renewed understanding of their surroundings in a suppressive society. Thus, through these texts, Frost and Weir demonstrate their characters to abandon established ways and embrace new outlooks that provide a profound understanding of an individual’s identity.
Natural and romanticist settings are often the catalysts for the sudden and unexpected journey of place discovery for individuals to generate a heightened self-perception. Frost’s simplistic use of heroic couplets in ‘TT’, “I went to turn the grass once after one/who mowed it in the dew before the sun” creates the tone of peace and tranquillity, which resonates a natural and romantic setting. This resonation reinforces the individual’s ideal setting to furnish a catalyst for the sudden and unexpected discovery, facilitating a place discovery that may not have been achieved anywhere else. Frost continues to portray the persona’s sudden natural discovery “A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared…feel a spirit kindred to my own” by using action verbs; Frost gives life to the natural setting. The unexpected discovery allows the persona to discover a connection through nature that was previously unknown. Correspondingly in ‘SB’, the woods’ allure and beauty entice the persona, though conflicted between giving into nature or endure society’s burdens. This notion is prevalent through the portrayed symbol of snow as a representation of beauty. “The only other sound’s the sweep/Of easy wind and downy flake” to use the sense of hearing to convey the beauty of nature. Although the persona is in an uncomfortable place “between the woods and frozen lake/the darkest evening of the year”, he paused to contemplate the beauty of nature. Hence, through the natural and romanticist settings, the personas have revealed a place discovery which has been able to form a new understanding as a result of abandoning established ways.
An individual’s isolation may facilitate moments of epiphanies that lead to the intricate self-discoveries and the employment of unique outlooks. In Frost’s ‘TT’ the butterfly motif facilitates a connection between the mower and persona, in turn transform the persona’s sense of isolation and outlook on life. It is the butterfly who leads the persona to the flowers “He turned first, and led my eye to look/At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook” which causes his discovery and epiphany. Additionally, the juxtaposing couplets “The butterfly I had lit upon, /Nevertheless, a message from the dawn” expresses the shift in attitudinal tone; from perceiving isolation negatively, to one embracing the loneliness of the connection between man and nature. However, through the character development in DPS, isolation is revealed as a catalyst for individuals to enhance their understanding of themselves. Weir reveals Todd, a shy and uncomfortable character to be disoriented through his discovery process when Mr Keating forces him to describe what he sees when his eyes are closed. After uncovering his talent for poetic verse, “from the moment we enter crying t-to the moment we leave dying, it’ll just cover your face as you wail and cry and scream” the reverted camera angle coupled with the other students clapping their approval highlights his renewed understanding as a result of his isolation from societal norms. Mr Keating uses Robert Frost’s “Two roads diverged in a yellow road” to teach each student to walk their own way, antagonising the traditional and conservative society. By learning to walk their way, “To take the one less travelled by” they can develop their character and their individuality, ultimately revealing that the responders can too, walk their own way. Through the moments of epiphany, individuals attain self-discoveries due to their isolation.
Individuals may uncover the unknown through aspects of everyday life and as a ramification of an intellectual discovery, which may evoke a brighter understanding of the world. Throughout ‘SB’, Frost’s clear language, first person narration and present tense empower the responder with an opportunity to experience the wondrous nature in “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep.” where the ‘woods’ illustrate the allure of nature while the ‘promises’ exemplify society’s burdens. This presents the life he wishes – lovely and natural, dark and primitive, deep and genuine. However, the woods further represent the metaphysical where the “dark and deep” symbolises death and the unknown in the after-life. Furthermore, in DPS the individual discovery of what one can achieve is demonstrated. Mr Keating stresses the need to “seize the day” throughout his lessons, encouraging them to capitalise on their time and exploit the opportunities that they face to achieve their goal. This notion is prevalent in various instances as simple aspects of everyday life such as calling a girl and auditioning for a play present the ability for responders to uncover an intellectual discovery by releasing themselves from society. Mr. Keating continues to reveal the importance of “poetry, beauty, romance, love” as he states that “these are what we stay alive for” through a close-up high-angle shot from the students’ perspective, allowing responders to be empathetic and attain a brighter understanding of the world.
Thus, everyday aspects reveal the unknown through the ramification of relinquishing societal norms. Overall, through the natural and romanticist settings, isolation and the unknown, the personas embrace new outlooks and perceptions on the world around them, consequent of the discovery processes of place, intellectual and self. Through Robert Frost’s ‘The Tuft of Flowers’ and ‘Stopping by woods on a snowy evening’ as well as Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society, the responder can adopt a new outlook on life with a greater appreciation and perception for the world and others around them.
Authority Against Individualism: Dead Poets Society and The Rabbits
The controlling and oppressive nature of authority can instigate acts of rebellion from the individual, creating underlying tension and generating an unstable and problematic relationship. Peter Weir explores notions unconformity through Dead Poets Society by depicting how subtle acts of rebellion can create conflict, resulting in detrimental effects on the individual. Furthermore, John Marsden and Shaun Tan’s The Rabbits expresses how the overbearing and powerful authority coerces the individual to adhere to the contradictory beliefs of the authority.
The strictly hierarchical nature of the authority results in the individual becoming frustrated as a consequence of unreasonable pressure to conform to unjust societal values, and hence increasing the contingency for rebellious, potentially harmful activities, in turn creating conflict. Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society explores the unstable relationship between the two entities through his depiction of a highly traditional and conservative authority that exerts its power in order to bully the individual to supress creativity, however leading to subtle acts of rebellion. The unsteady relationship is introduced through the mise-en-scène of the incredibly uniform and symmetrical dorm room coupled with the boys chanting, ‘Travesty, horror, decadence, excrement,’ reflecting subtle ways in which the individual deviates from conventional values in order to express limited originality. Similarly, the authority attempts to supress philosophies of individuality and creativity, creating a monotonous and oppressive environment where individuals are often required to express ingenuity through unconventional methods.
This theme is captured through the mid shot of Mr McAllister as he tediously states, ‘Agricola, agricolae, agricolas…’ as contrasted to the unorthodox teaching Mr Keating, who encourages notions of ‘Carpe Diem’ and insists students refer to him as ‘O Captain, My Captain’, a metaphor for his nonconforming and individualistic nature, acknowledging how originality can emerge but due to exceeding the power compels them abide the authority. Furthermore, deviating from the expectations of the institution and developing nonconformist ideologies, culminates in tension arising and enables conflict to become enlaced throughout the relationship. This is evident through the jump cut shots of the close up of Charlie’s face as he is being paddled (and the mid shots of Mr Nolan highlighting the pain that the individual may undergo when caught deviating from conservative means through self-expression) and reinforces the importance how subtle acts of rebellion may go unnoticed if not escalated to a degree where it is blatantly obvious to the authority. Hence, the oppressive authoritarian body manipulates the individual to enforce superficial values, damaging their relationship and potentially causing long-term tension.
Moreover, the submissive and controlling temperament of the authoritarian entity incites the provocation of incessant communal values, creating widespread conflict, with the authority’s reaction disproportional to the capabilities of the individual. John Marsden and Shaun Tan’s The Rabbits expresses this unsteady relationship of an overbearing authority that force the simple minded and innocent individual to acquiesce to decisions. Tan’s use of the juxtaposition of a black ship to the colourful and unique background establishes the naïve and innocent views of the individuals, who emphasise originality that contradicts the structural and uniform values of the authority. This is similarly convey through the use of metaphor portraying all the livestock with the same markings and cuttings symbolising the unjustified pressure to conform and become institutionalised, and suggests how the authority views the individual as an expendable resource. Evoking a sense of uniformity and structure the brown hue of the militaristic authority coupled with the recurring motif of ‘might = right’ illustrates how the ingenuity and creativity of the individual will be extinguished due to the authority’s response disproportionate to the respective powers of the individual.
However, any divergent thinking to the structured and systematic values will consequently result in conflict being embedded into the relationship. The hierarchical nature of the authority is emphasised through Marsden’s use of hyperbole describing how there were, ‘millions and millions,’ of rabbits coupled with the use of a black and white colour with a monarch reigning capturing the how the wider powers will refuse any opportunity of self-expression to ensure individuals don’t deviates from traditional values. Although, an individual’s decision to resist indoctrination of authoritative institution’s value can subsequently disrupt their relationship. This is acknowledged through the polluted dystopian environment symbolising how the hostility between the authority and the individual manifests in corrosive effects, disturbing the status quo and weakening the collective unity within the community. Thus, Marsden reveals an inextricable link between the instability of the relationship and the authority’s persistent pressure to become indoctrinated as he indicates restricted opportunities of self-expression will interrupt the steady bond with the individual.
Ultimately, the individual’s ability to resist authority’s constraints, and to express personal values, inevitably generates a repressive and domineering environment, resulting in conflict becoming entrenched throughout. Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society and John Marsden’s The Rabbits reinforce this notion through their representation of the conflict that emanates when the individual condemns the values of stale institutions and explores ingenuity, with a response disproportionate to the capable powers of the individual.
Exploring Transitions: Educating Rita and Dead Poets Society
Transitions allow individuals to embrace new perspectives of the world we occupy. Willy Russell’s comedic stage play “Educating Rita”, written in 1979 at a time when education was being made more accessible to the working class, seeks to illustrate how education enables individuals to transition adopt the perspectives of new social contexts. Peter Weir’s 1989 dramatic film “Dead Poet’s Society”, set in 1959 America during the transition between a decade of repression and revolution, in contrast conveys how education that encourages individuals to transition from conformity to individuality allows them to develop their own, unique perspectives of their current world. A state of transition is an exciting phase of life, leading to fresh opportunities and perspectives.
In Educating Rita, Rita transitions away from her working-class life by gaining access to education through the Open University movement, resulting in fresh opportunities. Rita’s initial perspective that her world is full of mediocrity is shown through use of the rhetorical question in “is this the absolute maximum I can expect from this livin’ lark?”, conveying Rita’s dissatisfaction the values of consumerism, of “music an’ clothes” that her working-class environment provides. However, education as a means of escaping social restrictions for working-class women is shown through Rita’s entrance in her struggle to open the faulty door to her instructor Frank’s office, a physical and metaphorical barrier to her transition into the academic world. Thus, Rita’s entrance conveys her d determination to transition and gain a new perspective that her world can be exciting rather than mediocre. Furthermore, Russell conveys how transition through education generates Rita’s new perception of her life having purpose through stage directions of Rita bursts through the door out of breath after watching a play. The stage directions not only reflecting her statement that her study of literature is “providin’ me with life itself”, but also highlighting her new perspective of the world as renewed and exciting as a consequence of her transition. Hence, transition is an exciting phase of life, leading to fresh opportunities and perspectives. Whilst transitions may be confronting, they ultimately allow the individual to grow by embracing new perspectives.
Through education from his teacher Mr. Keating, Todd Anderson transitions away from conforming to the values of his private school Welton, a microcosm of upper class society in the 50s, instead gaining new perspectives on the importance of individuality. A wide shot of students standing up to proclaim the school’s values of “tradition, honour, discipline, excellence”, in contrast to Todd hesitating before standing up highlights his initial perspective that it’s better to conform rather than confront fears of societal rejection order to transition. However, through a lesson activity where boys jump up their desks to literally see from a new perspective, Weir portrays Keating’s education as a juxtaposition to education that promotes identical perspectives and a vehicle to provide Todd with the opportunity to transition by confronting his fear of rejection. The switch from high key to low key lighting as a Todd jumps off the desk reveals how he begins to confront his fear of rejection. Further, Todd’s transition is shown through the camera rotation as he improvises poetry, the camera speeding up until the background becomes blurry to shown how he has forgotten expectations of others around him, gaining the new perspective that pursuing his values and passions are more important. In the final scene, Todd’s new perspective is emphasized shown as he stands on top of his desk to farewell Keating, with non-diegetic bagpipe music that has a triumphant tone to convey the success of Todd’s transition. Hence, while transitions may be confronting, they ultimately allow individuals to grow by embracing new perspectives. The nature of transition will always lead to something being lost in order to gain new perspectives.
In Educating Rita, Russell reveals what Rita loses in order to gain the perspective that her life has purpose. The loss of Rita’s uniqueness as a result of transition is shown through her shift in language from colloquial to formal, with her statement of “there is not a lot of point discussing beautiful literature in an ugly voice” a stark contrast from her previous colloquial language such as “dead narked”, showing how she has conformed to the pretentious values of the academic world to affirm her perspective that her current world is more meaningful than the old. This is reflected through Rita’s costuming of she is dressed in new, second-hand clothes, symbolizing her shift in personality; while the clothes are new for Rita, her ideas are borrowed from others. While Rita’s perspective that she knows how to find fulfilment in the world as a result of transition “I know what clothes to wear, what wine to buy, what plays to see”, Frank ‘s metaphor of “you’ve found a different song that’s… hollow and tuneless” reveals how Ultimately, transitions allow individuals to embrace new perspectives of the new world they occupy.
Willy Russell’s comedic stage play “Educating Rita”, conveys how education enables individuals to transition adopt the perspectives of new social contexts, while Peter Weir’s 1989 dramatic film “Dead Poet’s Society”, conveys how education that encourages individuals to transition from conformity to individuality allows them to develop their own, unique perspectives of their current world.