Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next class of the day is gym. In gym, the gym master orders everyone to jog, and compliments Knox for his excellent pace. Most of the other students sweat and gasp through the class.
The passage portrays gym class as being difficult and rigorous—a metaphor, perhaps, for the way that the Welton administration as a whole ultimately forces its students to “run in circles”—i.e., chase goals that aren’t necessarily worth pursuing in the first place.
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At the end of the day, Knox mentions that he’s having dinner with the Danburrys, a family his father knows well—and, as Cameron informs the rest, major Welton alumni donors. Neil sees Todd lost in thought, and invites Todd to his friends’ study group that night. Todd declines, and Neil assures him that he can still join if he changes his mind. Later, Todd studies history and absent-mindedly writes, “Seize the day” in his notebook.
Cameron’s obsession with status and advancement is clear: he already knows who the Danburrys are because he’s very interested in becoming a successful Welton alumnus himself. Todd is interested in Keating’s “carpe diem” philosophy, but he’s still too shy to allow himself to express any kind of passion at all.
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Later that evening, Knox gets a ride from Dr. Hager to the Danburry house. Knox rings the bell, and a beautiful young woman answers the door. She lets Knox into the house, where Mr. Danburry and Mrs. Danburry are waiting. They greet Knox, ask him about his father (apparently, a lawyer), and introduce Knox to their daughter, Virginia. Suddenly, the beautiful young woman walks back into the room with a young man. Mr. Danburry explains that the young man is his son, Chet Danburry, and the woman is his girlfriend, Chris Noel.
Knox is immediately smitten with Chris Noel, a beautiful young woman. Thus, a romantic conflict arises: Chris is dating another young man, Chet. The passage also gives a sense for Knox’s family background—he comes from a wealthy family with a lot of “connections” to other powerful families.
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While Chet bickers with his father about taking the car that night, Knox asks Chris where she goes to school. She goes to Ridgeway, where Chet is on the football team. Chris talks to Virginia, who mentions that she might try out for the production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the nearby theater, Henley Hall. When Chet has succeeded in convincing his father to lend him the car, he leads Chris outside. Knox watches through the window as Chet and Chris make out in the car, and feels deeply envious.
Chet comes across as a spoiled young man who’s used to getting what he wants. Knox becomes deeply jealous of Chet for getting to kiss Chris—his instant infatuation for Chris is plain. The passage also gives some information about Virginia and about the upcoming Shakespeare production, which will figure prominently in the novel’s second half.
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Get the entire Dead Poets Society LitChart as a printable PDF.
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Later that night, Knox returns to his dorm and immediately announces, “I just met the most beautiful girl I have ever seen in my life.” Meeks tries to get Knox to join the study group, but Knox can’t concentrate on anything but Chris.
Knox obviously has a crush on Chris, but the novel never makes it clear if his infatuation with Chris—whom he barely knows—is “true love” or just an awkward teenager’s crush.
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The next day, Mr. Keating begins the English class by asking Neil to read the introduction to the textbook, “Understanding Poetry.” The introduction argues, in dull, jargon-filled language, that poetry can only be understood if one first understands its “artfulness” and its “objectives.” A great poem, the introduction insists, can be measured by graphing its formal artfulness with its objectives—a poem that covers a “massive area” would qualify as great.
The dryness and dullness of the “Understanding Poetry” essay conveys academia’s inability to truly “feel” poetry. (The essay shares its title with a famous book of literary criticism by Cleanth Brooks that was widely criticized for being overly dry and technical). The point seems to be that, in analyzing poetry in such technical, almost mathematical ways, academics lose sight of the beauty and “music” of poetry—in other words, the very things that make poetry worth reading in the first place.
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As Neil reads, Mr. Keating scrawls a graph of “artfulness vs. objectives” on the blackboard. When Neil falls silent, Keating screams and yells for every student in class to rip out the introduction. He marches the trashcan around the room, ensuring that every student rips out the pages. The students begin laughing and clapping—to the point where, suddenly, Mr. McAllister bursts in, furious with the noise. He’s visibly surprised to see that Mr. Keating is in the room, teaching—he apologizes and leaves.
As in previous chapters, Keating uses performance and theatricality to make his point: the ordinary, “academic” approach to reading poetry is totally insufficient. The passage also provides an early example of how Keating’s teaching methods begin to raise some eyebrows with his colleagues—by the end of the book, Keating’s unconventional style will have alienated him from almost all of his peers at Welton.
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Mr. Keating returns to his lesson. He insists that his students have to “triumph as individuals.” Humans should read poetry in order to fill their lives with passion, excitement, love, and beauty—not because poetry has anything to do with “business school or medical school.” Each student in his class, he says, quoting Walt Whitman, must “contribute a verse” to the “play” of life. “What will your verse be?” he asks his class. Then, Keating instructs the students to open their books and begin a discussion of William Wordsworth and Romanticism.
Keating makes his point: poetry should be “felt,” not analyzed. He argues that although most school subjects at Welton are very practical (such as math or science), poetry shouldn’t be measured in terms of its practicality—it should be celebrated for enriching the students’ lives. Many writers and educators have criticized Keating’s point of view for being anti-intellectual, however—it’s possible to appreciate the beauty of poetry, they have argued, while also rigorously analyzing its meter, its literary devices, etc. Indeed, it’s not clear how Keating would actually approach analyzing specific poems—and indeed, it’s telling that the chapter ends just as he’s about to begin doing so. Keating is more interesting when he’s putting on a big, showy performance like the one in this chapter than he is when he’s actually delving into literature.
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