Dead Poet’s Society was filmed through the eyes of transcendentalism using Emerson’s philosophy, as seen in Nature and “Self-Reliance;” and Thoreau’s philosophy, as seen in Walden. The film deals with a group of young men who attend a very strict boarding school and the English teacher who gives them a new perspective on everything. The damaging effects of conformity, beautiful sense of nature, and emphasis of simplicity and individuality are shown in many elements throughout Dead Poet’s Society and are ultimately highlighted by Emerson and Thoreau’s philosophies, making the overall concept of transcendentalism understood.
The main character of Dead Poet’s Society is Neil Perry, an over-achieving, good-natured young man who is unwillingly committed to the academic career of a doctor due to his very strict father. All his life Neil had been obedient to his father, until English Professor John Keating instilled some spirit in him and helped Neil pursue acting, an art Neil has always admired. After auditioning, he got the lead role in the play and proceeded to forge a permission slip to give to the headmaster so he could actually attend rehearsal; this is the first time Neil has done anything against his father’s wishes. Eventually, Mr. Perry hears about his son’s doing and goes to the school demanding him to quit the play, a command Neil only pretends to obey. On opening night, Mr. Perry shows up and stays to watch the show, although he is not hesitant to discipline Neil afterwards and tell him that he is to be enrolled into military school, where he will become a doctor. Unable to deal with the situation, Neil gets his father’s gun and ends his own life. Neil’s suicide was more than just that, as Emerson stated, “Standing on the bare ground – my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space – all mean egotism vanishes” (Nature 366). When Neil ended his own life, he did it to set himself free....
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