Dead Poets As Tragic Drama Essay, Research Paper
Dead Poets as Tragic Drama
The character Neil in Dead Poets Society is a good example of a tragic hero. He is
a character that is controlled by his passionate nature and by an insatiable desire to act in
the theatre, against the wishes of his authoritative father. Neil is portrayed as a person of
high stature and the events involving him in particular invoke pathos in the viewers.
Feelings of pity and compassion towards Neil increase as he pursues acting and conflict
arises between him and his father.
The advice I would give to Neil is: be strong and proud of your passions and
pursue them to your heart’s content, yet, thoroughly express to your father the emotions
you feel towards acting and towards him, and assure him that, although you love and
respect him, you will not be drawn from your destiny; you will act, with or without his
Neil’s tragic flaw is his passionate nature.
Following the end of Neil’s play, critical events unfold that have a great effect on
the viewers. Immediately after the play ends, Neil is quickly ushered by his father to the
car waiting outside. Neil’s father is obviously very angry and does not permit Neil to
speak with his friends and particularly John Keating. The viewers are aware of the
reasons for the actions of Neil’s father – Neil was specifically instructed to withdraw
from the play – yet sympathize with Neil’s predicament.
Neil is taken home to his waiting mother where his father sternly informs him that
he will be enrolled in military school the following morning. Upon his completion of
military school Neil will enter medical school. The orders are unreasonable and
inconsiderate of Neil’s desires. Neil, however, fails to summon the courage to explain to
his father how he truly feels towards acting and the viewer again feel pity and
compassion for Neil.
Through John Keating, Neil has realized his true passion, acting. He boldly
attempts to “seize the day” and “suck the marrow from life”, and so, his cohorts follow
his lead. When Neil meets his premature death towards the end of the film, and fulfills his
destiny as ‘tragic hero’, the school immediately conducts an inquiry, namely targeted at
John Keating who’s unorthodox teaching methods and advice, they feel, provoked the
actions of Neil and the other boys. The viewers are aware of the actual occurrences in and
out of John Keating’s classroom, and feel that he is not entirely responsible and that the
school’s inquiry is somewhat unwarranted. Facing expulsion and disgrace, the boys are
forced to unite against John Keating and confess to the happenings at the meetings of the
Dead Poets Society. John Keating is subsequently relieved of his teaching position and
the viewers share a sense of injustice.
In the final scene the emotions of the viewers are finally purged and a catharsis
takes place when, as he is collecting his belongings and leaving the classroom, John
Keating is bid farewell by half of the students, standing atop their desks and announcing
“Oh Captain, my Captain!”. The boys have shed the social norms imposed on them at the
school and have begun to think for themselves; they have, in a sense, evolved, not into
the defying products of John Keating but into capable independent thinkers. As John
Keating thanks his students and the film closes, there is a feeling of satisfaction and
closure, despite the tragic occurrences in the film.
The downfall of John Keating is a result of both his ‘tragic flaw’ and an accident
of fate. For the argument of his ‘tragic flaw’, John Keating is himself driven by a passion
to teach English poetry and literature but also possesses an acute stubbornness and
resentment towards conformity. The latter of the flaw is not imposed on but expressed to
the students who respond willingly to the teachings. This response, however, is perceived
by the school administraion as a threat towards the long tradition of honor held at the
school and leads to the dismissal of John Keating.
For the argument of an accident of fate, John Keating is not, however large his
influence may be, responsible for the actions of Neil, Neil’s father, or the other boys of
the Dead Poet’s Society. Decisions made were decisions made alone by the person
deciding. John Keating’s downfall is a combination of both internal and external factors,
some within his control, some not.