Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Picking up right where the last chapter ended, Knox is still at the party. He continues walking around the house, drinking bourbon. Now extremely drunk, Knox sits down on a couch, even though a couple is making out right next to him. Suddenly, he realizes that the couple is Chris and Chet.
Once again Knox is excluded from the romance he so desperately seeks.
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Knox notices Chris’s breasts, and, remembering Keating’s command to “seize the day,” shyly touches them. Because Chet and Chris are making out so intensely, Chris thinks that Chet is touching her breasts. Knox begins to rub Chris’s breasts even harder, enjoying himself as he does—then, suddenly, he spills his bourbon, and Chris and Chet look up. Chet, furious with Knox, punches Knox in the face. Chris tearfully tells Chet to leave Knox alone, saying, “He didn’t mean anything!” Chet pushes Knox out of the house and yells, “Next time I see you, you’re dead!”
Morally speaking, this is perhaps the low-point of the novel. Knox is extremely drunk, and begins groping Chris, treating her body like it belongs to him. This behavior, while somewhat repugnant, could at least be partly understood in light of the fact that Knox is a drunk, sexually immature teenager. Yet the novel seems to mostly be playing the incident for laughs. Chris’s defense of Knox is puzzling, considering that he just groped her breasts without her knowledge—she’s a flat character, mostly just a “love interest” for Knox, and it seems that she’s now falling for him despite his actions.
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Back at the cave, the Dead Poets have continued drinking and reciting poetry. Charlie tells the Dead Poets to show Tina the “dead poets garden” so that he can be alone with Gloria. The Dead Poets, getting the message, leave Charlie alone. Alone, Gloria tells Charlie, “Every guy that I meet wants me for one thing … You’re not like that.” Charlie, surprised, asks, “I’m not?” Gloria asks Charlie to continue “composing” (but in fact, reciting) poetry—as he does, she moans, “This is better than sex.”
Once again, the novel uses a male character’s lecherousness and objectification of women as an opportunity for humor. Charlie, it’s fairly clear by now, is strictly interested in Gloria as an object for his sexual gratification, though he’s conning her into believing that he’s attracted to her personality.
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The next day at Welton, the students gather in the school chapel for an emergency meeting. Knox has a huge bruise on his face, and the other Dead Poets are exhausted and hung over. In the chapel, Nolan announces that there was a “profane article” in the school paper—he commands the “guilty persons” to come forward to avoid expulsion.
As the chapter comes to an end, it becomes clear that Keating’s lessons are getting out of hand. Keating encourages his students to “seize the day” and be original thinkers. But the Dead Poets have interpreted Keating’s lessons to mean that they have license to do what they want, grope whomever they want, seduce whomever they want, and disobey the rules for the sake of disobeying the rules. As the students’ hangovers and injuries attest, their carelessness has consequences.
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Get the entire Dead Poets Society LitChart as a printable PDF.
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Suddenly, there’s the sound of a phone. Everyone turns to see Charlie, carrying a ringing phone. With exaggerated seriousness, he answers the phone, then says, “Mr. Nolan, it’s for you—it’s God. He said we should have girls at Welton.” Everyone laughs and cheers.
Charlie is a daring young man, though he seems to enjoy humiliating Nolan far more than he enjoys arguing for women’s equality. In this way, he exemplifies one of the dangers of Keating’s lessons—his students become enamored of rebellion for its own sake.
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Nolan marches Charlie to his office, where he asks Charlie who else was involved in writing the editorial—but Charlie insists that he wrote it alone. Nolan nods, and orders Charlie to “assume the position.” He then beats Charlie’s buttocks with a paddle. After ten hits, Nolan tells Charlie, “If I find that there are others … they will be expelled, and you will remain enrolled.” Nolan orders Charlie to apologize to the entire school.
This brief scene is a vivid reminder of the tyranny with which the Welton administration controls its students. On an ordinary day, it merely orders students to obey the rules; today, however, it uses physical force to force its students to obey. The scene is also important because it emphasizes the threat of expulsion, and shows Nolan’s cruel and petty tactics when it comes to disciplining the boys.
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Charlie returns to his dorm, where his friends are waiting for him. He explains everything Nolan told him, and continues to insist, “My name is Nuwunda.”
Charlie clearly has no regrets for his actions: he continues to celebrate rebellion and disobedience, taking a new (made up) name for himself, and with it, a new, unrepressed identity.
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Later that day, Nolan visits Mr. Keating in his classroom and asks him about how his classes have been going. Nolan insists that he’s not blaming Mr. Keating for Charlie’s actions, but also suggests that he’s heard rumors of unorthodox activity in Mr. Keating’s class. Mr. Keating replies that he’s trying to teach his students to learn for themselves—an idea that Nolan dismisses contemptuously. Nolan leaves.
The tension is building quickly: previously, Nolan was satisfied with Keating because Keating had an excellent academic resume. But now, Nolan is starting to realize how impactful Keating has been on the Welton student body. The clash between Keating’s approach to education (creating free thinkers) and Nolan’s (passing on a lot of information) is crystal clear—unfortunately, Nolan, not Keating, has the power to ensure that his ideas about education win out.
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Mr. McAllister then sticks his head into Mr. Keating’s classroom—he’s obviously overheard the argument. He tells Mr. Keating not to worry about the boys becoming conformists—“If you want to raise a confirmed atheist,” he argues, “Give him a rigid religious upbringing. Works every time.” Keating laughs.
Mr. McAllister’s observation is interesting because of what it implies about the Dead Poets Society. Just as a religiously-indoctrinated child is more likely to embrace atheism in adulthood, one could argue that the students of Welton are predisposed to rebel against their parents and teachers because they’ve been repressed and bossed around for so many years. This would imply that the students’ rebellious acts aren’t much more “honest” or “true” than their previous years of dutiful studying—they’re just an inevitable part of a youthful phase of rebelliousness. Naturally, Keating would disagree.
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Later that night, Keating visits the boys in their dorm. He tells Charlie that his stunt was ridiculous and reminds him, “There is a place for daring and a place for caution.” He convinces Charlie and his friends to obey the rules of Welton, reminding them that, if they’re expelled, they wouldn't be able to take his classes.
For all his talk of originality and seizing the day, Keating is a moderate when it comes to civil disobedience. Perhaps inspired by McAllister’s observation, he tries to impress upon Charlie that disobedience for its own sake is just as dangerous as obedience for its own sake. Keating doesn’t want his students to be violent or aggressive; he wants them to stay in school and keep learning (and therefore, obey the rules when necessary).
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The next day of class, Keating begins his class by talking about college—something that will “probably destroy” the students’ love for poetry. In a college course, it’s quite possible, the students will study great novels, only to be assigned a term paper on a horrible novel the professor himself as written. The students’ best course of action, he argues, is to just go ahead and write the term paper. Keating then proceeds to teach his students how to write a paper about a book they’ve never read before. The key to writing such a paper, he explains, is to use pretentious diction and cite lots of obscure or nonexistent philosophers.
Responding to Nolan’s urgings, Keating restructures his lessons. The lesson that Keating teaches in his chapter could be interpreted as a parody of the “college prep” classes Keating was supposed to be teaching all along. Keating prepares his students for college, but not in the usual prep school sense—he prepares them for the tedium of taking dull courses. As with his earlier lessons, Keating tries to teach his students how to be free and happy in life, rather than forcing them memorize a lot of specific information. Here, though, his point is that, at times, his students will have to sacrifice some of their freedom and happiness for a “greater good” like graduating from college.
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Keating proceeds to talk about how to take exams in college. College, he explains, is full of “delectable beasts” called women. He hands out blue books (the classic exam booklets still used for many college tests) and gives his students a pop quiz—but while administering the pop quiz, he uses the projector to project pictures of beautiful women onto the wall. The boys can’t concentrate on their blue books. As Knox proceeds with his pop quiz, he just writes, “Chris” again and again.
Keating seems to share some of his students’ propensities for objectifying women, or else is just trying to speak to them in their “language.” As far as he’s concerned in this lesson, women are interesting and important to students insofar as they’re a distraction from men studying.
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