Dead Poets Society: Act of Living Transcendentally

For one to live transcendentally is completely up to themselves, under the control of no one else but their own, something many of the boys in Dead Poets Society understood. The act of living transcendentally is not easy, in fact it is very difficult. To live this way one has to be their own person; an individual who doesn’t conform to the rest of society and uses this to live their life to the best that it can be. All the boys in Dead Poets Society saw that they could live a transcendental life, but they also saw that to do so they had to go against what some of their teachers and parents were telling them even knowing there would be consequences.

Everyone in Dead Poets Society had some sort of authority that they had to listen to, some more than others. One of these characters was in fact someone who had authority but also had to listen to authority as well. This was Mr. John Keating, the new English teacher at Welton Academy. Mr. Keating gets introduced already following the ideas of transcendentalism and even focuses on teaching these ideas to his students. His students all have an interest in his class because he is different from the other teachers and teaches his own way. The headmaster, Mr. Keating’s authority, soon sees how he teaches and confronts Keating about his unorthodox lesson in the courtyard. He comments to the headmaster that it was a “lesson on the danger of conformity” and goes on to tell him “I always thought the idea of educating was to learn to think for yourself”(Schulman). Keating’s words clearly show his belief in Transcendentalism and especially individualism. He especially uses these ideas and philosophies to influence the boys through his teaching and individualistic ways.

One of these students whom he impacted was Todd Anderson. Todd would be described as the new shy boy who lacks self-confidence. Mr. Keating assigned his class to write a poem and perform it in front of the class, but when Todd gets called on to present his poem he says “I dont have one.. I didn’t write one”(Schulman). Keating addresses the class after Todd’s response and says, ‘Mr. Anderson thinks that everything inside of him is worthless and embarrassing. Isn’t that right, Todd? Isn’t that your worst fear? Well, I think you’re wrong. I think you have something inside of you that is worth a great deal”(Schulman). Mr. Keating then quotes Whitman “I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world” and proceeds to tell Todd to demonstrate “a barbaric yawp” in front of the class(Whitman qtd in Schulman). Todd struggles with this due to his shyness and lack of self-confidence, but Keating then grabs hold of Todd, points to the frame hanging on his wall and says to him,’The picture of Uncle Walt up there. What does he remind you of?”(Schulman). Keating then relentlessly encourages Todd to spontaneously form a poem while he covers Todd’s eyes forcing him to just think and immediately release what comes into his mind. This allows for Todd to successfully create an amazing poem as well as distinguish himself as a person. This act and others similar to it allowed Todd to develop his own individualistic personality as well as see the benefits of non-conformity.

Todd Anderson was not the only person who Keating and his influential beliefs had an impact on; Neil Perry was the student who was most influenced by Mr. Keating’s transcendentalist ideas. Neil reveals characteristics of revolt and self reliance, side effects that coincide with non-conformity and individuality. He is one of the nicest boys in the group, and had a big part in drawing together his brotherhood of friends and forming the Dead Poets Society even though he knew there would be severe consequences if he or anyone else was caught. The other side of his life is his very inflexible and dominating father, who controls Neil’s life. Neil has a passion to act and he gets one of the main parts in the Shakespearean play in Midsummer Night’s Dream, but he does this without his father’s permission. He ‘forges his father’s permission by writing a letter on behalf of his father to the headmaster'(Schulman). Neil is ecstatic and overjoyed about his accomplishment until one day finds his father waiting for him in his dorm. His father confronts Neil saying, ‘It’s bad enough that you’ve wasted your time with this, this absurd acting business. But you deliberately deceived me! How, how, how did you expect to get away with this? Answer me.…I don’t care if the world comes to an end tomorrow night. You are through with that play!'(Schulman). This is when Neil talks to Mr. Keating about how he doesn’t want to listen to his father and conform to his standards and wants to be his own person and follow what he wants to do in life. After the play, Neil has given a wonderful performance and Keating compliments him by stating, ‘Neil. Neil. You have the gift. What a performance You left even me speechless. You have to stay with- ‘(Schulman) and then Mr. Perry appears. Neil’s success in the play soon becomes a tragedy and his father tells him that he is withdrawing him from Welton, and sending him to military school, a place that defies individualistic values. Neil tried to follow his personal transcendental beliefs even though he knew there were going to be consequences to following the path of individualism and nonconformity. He knew his consequences were going to be bad, but he never anticipated them to be as bad as they were, for it was those reasons that he ended his own life.

All of the boys in the Dead Poets Society fully understood that to follow Transcendentalism, their own path to individualism and nonconformity, they would not be abiding to their authority’s rules and beliefs. They understood living their lives his way would not be easy and would they would have many challenges to face with both their parents and teachers and knew there would be consequences, some worse for others. Even though they knew there would be consequences, the boys.. Neil, Todd, and even mr. Keating all chose to follow the path of Transcendentalism.These people chose to follow this belief of individualism and nonconformity because they knew it would improve their lives even if there were challenges along the way; They chose to live a Transcendentalist life.

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Dead Poets Society: Act of Living Transcendentally. (2021, Mar 29). Retrieved September 27, 2023 , from

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