Essays On The Dead Poets Society

Essays On The Dead Poets Society-1
Keating hasn’t actually read “The Road Not Taken” in any meaningful sense; rather, he’s adopted it, adapted it, made it his own—made it say what he wants it to say.His use of those closing lines, wrenched from their context, isn’t just wrong—it’s wrong, and Keating uses them to point a moral entirely different from that of Frost’s poem.

Keating hasn’t actually read “The Road Not Taken” in any meaningful sense; rather, he’s adopted it, adapted it, made it his own—made it say what he wants it to say.His use of those closing lines, wrenched from their context, isn’t just wrong—it’s wrong, and Keating uses them to point a moral entirely different from that of Frost’s poem.

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When his students first sit down with their new poetry anthology, Keating tricks a student into reading aloud a few sentences from the banal introduction written by Dr. Evans Pritchard, Ph D—a cartoonish version of academic criticism that opens with a split infinitive! of the Dead Poets Society, Welton’s bookish version of Yale’s Skull and Bones. Keating explains the purpose of the group to his inner circle of students in a conspiratorial whisper: The Dead Poets were dedicated to sucking the marrow out of life.

—before instructing them to tear those pages out of their books. Armies of academics going forward measuring poetry. That’s a phrase from Thoreau we would invoke at the beginning of every meeting. )If the Welton School officials and parents suspect that Mr.

(Though generic-sounding, the essay’s title, “Understanding Poetry,” mischievously nods to the most influential poetry text of the 20th century, Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren’s This is a battle. A few would gather at the old Indian cave and read from Thoreau, Whitman, Shelley, the biggies—even some of our own verse—and in the enchantment of the moment we’d let poetry work its magic…. We didn’t just read poetry, we let it drip from our tongues like honey. Keating is leading his students astray, Pied Piper-like, there is at least something to that charge. Lindsay knows little of the Negro, and that little is dangerous.” Whatever the poem’s real or intended politics, the spectacle of an all-white clique of prep-school boys capering out of a cave into the night while chanting the poem’s refrain (“THEN I SAW THE CONGO, CREEPING THROUGH THE BLACK, / CUTTING THROUGH THE JUNGLE WITH A GOLDEN TRACK”)—well, For all his talk about students “finding their own voice,” however, Keating actually allows his students very little opportunity for original thought.

Or rather, he’s sending them astray, without ever really leading them. It’s a freedom that’s often preached but never realized.

How bold: He’s standing perhaps 2½ feet off the ground.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his essay “Nature,” had made the same point rather more radically, suggesting that one “Turn the eyes upside down, by looking at the landscape through your legs.”Keating then has the boys march up to the front, of course, and one-by-one and two-by-two they mount his desk and they too “look at things in a different way”—exactly the different way that he has.When they resist, it’s often the sentimental humanities that they’re resisting: the conception that the humanities, as a group of disciplines, is more about feeling than thinking.That the humanities is easy, a soft option; that the humanities doesn’t train thinkers.This titanic (if cartoonish) battle, often characterized as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) v.humanities—Big Science, little man—has been splashed across the higher education and broader popular press, and has clearly captured the public imagination.But while avoiding the pitfalls of dull pedagogy, Keating doesn’t finally give his students anything in its place besides a kind of vague enthusiasm. Mc Allister’s students are declining Latin——has a great deal, I believe, to tell us about the current conversation concerning the “crisis in the humanities.”Certainly it has been an interesting few years for humanists.Since the economic downturn of 2008, enrollments in humanities courses across the country have declined; at the same time—the flip-side of the coin—colleges and universities are seeing a sharp increase in students majoring in those disciplines which, rightly or wrongly, are thought to ensure better employment prospects at the conclusion of one’s studies.After each has experienced this “small alteration in [his] local position” (Emerson), he steps or leaps off the desk, as if a lemming off a cliff: Keating’s warning, “Don’t just walk off the edge like lemmings!,” unfortunately only serves to underscore the horrible irony of this unintended dramatic metaphor.For what Keating (Robin Williams) models for his students isn’t literary criticism, or analysis, or even study. That’s how I was taught, in high school especially. And we’re meant to learn, over the course of that poem, that he’s wrong—that he’s both congratulating and kidding himself.He chooses his road ostensibly because “it was grassy and wanted wear”; but this description is contradicted in the very next lines—“Though as for that, the passing there / Had worn them really about the same,” and—more incredibly still—“both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black.” He wants to claim to have taken the exceptional road, if not the spiritual high road; but he knows on some level that it’s a hollow boast.

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