Late at night, Mr. Keating walks from the cave back to Welton, followed by his students, Virginia, and Chris—all of them chanting poetry.
In this scene, Keating isn’t the students’ leader—he’s just another one of the Dead Poets.
Back in the Perry house, Neil finds a key and opens the drawer of a desk. He puts on his Puck costume, placing the crown of flowers on his head.
The imagery in this scene evokes that of the Biblical passion of the Christ—Neil’s crown of flowers suggests the crown of thorns, symbolizing the way Neil will sacrifice his life for a love of art.
Back at Welton, Keating and his Dead Poets run through the forest, chanting joyously. Knox and Chris kiss.
Chris finally reciprocates Knox’s feelings, but because she’s such an underdeveloped character, her newfound love is somewhat implausible.
Back in the Perry house, Mr. Perry wakes up—he’s heard a loud noise. He runs into Neil’s room to find Neil, clutching his father’s revolver, covered in blood.
It’s telling that the gun that kills Neil belongs to Neil’s father. With his strictness and cruelty, Mr. Perry has seemingly driven his already passionate, sometimes self-destructive son to suicide.
Keating and his students return to Welton very late. Early the next morning, Charlie wakes Todd up in his bed. Neil is dead, Charlie explains, stone-faced: he shot himself. Todd is so shaken he runs to the bathroom and vomits. Todd shouts that Mr. Perry killed Neil—Neil would never give up on life. Knox is doubtful, but Todd insists he’s right—even if Mr. Perry didn’t pull the trigger, he “killed” his son.
When Todd hears the news about Neil’s suicide, his immediate reaction is to blame Mr. Perry. Todd is correct to say that Mr. Perry’s cruelty and harshness drove Neil to depression, even if it’s overly simplistic to say that Mr. Perry “killed” his son. Nevertheless, Todd’s instinctive scapegoating foreshadows the way Welton Academy will try to find a different scapegoat for Neil’s death.
Meanwhile, Mr. Keating sits in his classroom—he’s heard the news, too. He picks up his poetry anthology, which he took home from the Dead Poets meeting. He looks at the words, “Dead Poets,” written on the first page, and begins to weep.
Mr. Keating weeps because the phrase “Dead Poet” has taken on a tragic new meaning. Keating’s philosophy of “seize the day” was based on the inevitability of death—now, death has come to one of the Dead Poets. Furthermore, Keating might be weeping because he feels he played a role in Neil’s death—he inspired Neil to act in the play, accidentally increasing the friction between Neil and his father.
Neil is buried in Welton town, and the Dead Poets carry his coffin at the funeral. The teachers of Welton attend the funeral, Keating included. Later, at the Welton chapel, Headmaster Nolan makes a speech for the boys, in which he says Neil was “a fine student, one of Welton’s best.” He also says that, at the Perrys’ request, there will be an investigation into “the matter.”
In the aftermath of Neil’s suicide, the moral bankruptcy of Welton Academy is made clear. Nolan can only offer a few clichéd words about Neil’s death (presumably the same words he would have used about any other Welton student), and, selfishly, he relates Neil’s death back to Welton. The rest of the book will concern the investigation into Neil’s death.
Later that day, back in their dormitory, Meeks tells the Dead Poets that Cameron is talking to Headmaster Nolan right now—explaining everything about the Dead Poets Society. Charlie nods, realizing what’s going on—Welton needs a scapegoat for the accident. “Schools go under because of things like this,” he says.
Ultimately, Nolan and the Welton administration aren’t concerned with right and wrong—they’re concerned with keeping their profitable school in business. For all the talk of honor and morality at Welton, the people in power at there are actually greedy and amoral, willing to blame an innocent man for murder.
Suddenly, Cameron enters the dorm. Charlie accuses Cameron of “finking,” but Cameron denies it—he claims he just told the truth. Charlie is so furious that he tries to hit Cameron. Knox warns Charlie that if he hits Cameron, he’ll be expelled, to which Charlie replies, “I’m out anyway.” Cameron agrees, and explains that, since Mr. Keating roused the boys’ interest in the Dead Poets Society, he’ll be blamed for the tragedy and fired from Welton. If it weren’t for Keating, he claims, Neil would still be alive, dreaming of being a doctor. Todd angrily tells Cameron that he’s wrong—Keating didn’t tell Neil to do anything. “I say let Keating fry,” Cameron says. “Why ruin our lives?”
Cameron has always been reluctant about the Dead Poets, and uneasy around Keating. He explains that Keating will be scapegoated for Neil’s death. While it’s certainly true that Keating inspired Neil’s passion for theater—a passion that contributed to his suicide—it’s untrue to say that Keating is to blame for Neil’s death. Keating encouraged Neil to speak to his father honestly about his passion for acting—had Neil done so, Mr. Perry might have let him continue performing, or at least have opened up a channel of communication less extreme than suicide. Furthermore, Keating tried to teach his students to embrace the beauty of life, not give in to death. Tragically, Neil has seemingly misinterpreted “carpe diem” to justify his own self-harm.
Charlie runs at Cameron and punches him in the face. Cameron staggers back, but begins to laugh—“You just signed your expulsion papers,” he says. The students walk out of the room, except for Cameron, who yells, “You can’t save Keating, but you can save yourselves!”
Ultimately, Cameron has betrayed the Dead Poets by ratting out Keating and, more implicitly, by accepting Welton’s model of success; first and foremost, he wants to remain in school, even if it means compromising his loyalty to his peers and teacher. His parting words establish the moral crisis of the final chapter: the Welton students can either betray their beloved teacher or remain loyal to him, and suffer the real-world consequences.