Dead Poets Society

Standing on the Desk Symbol Analysis

Standing on the Desk Symbol Icon

In John Keating’s first and last scenes in the book, characters stand on desks in his classroom: in his first scene, he stands on the desk, and in the final scene, his students do—an apt symbol for how Keating passes on his own spirit and wisdom to his young disciples. Standing on the desk, as Keating says explicitly in the book, symbolizes seeing the world from another point of view; that is, challenging traditional ideas and stereotypes in order to be free.

Standing on the Desk Quotes in Dead Poets Society

The Dead Poets Society quotes below all refer to the symbol of Standing on the Desk. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Life, Death, and “Carpe Diem” Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Hyperion edition of Dead Poets Society published in 2006.
Chapter 4 Quotes

He jumped dramatically onto his desk and turned to face the class. “O Captain! My Captain!” he recited energetically, then looked around the room.

Related Characters: John Keating (speaker)
Related Symbols: Standing on the Desk
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 15 Quotes

As Nolan started down the aisle toward him, Knox, on the other side of the room, called out Mr. Keating's name and stood up on his desk too. Nolan turned toward Knox. Meeks mustered up his courage and stood up on his desk. Pitts did the same. One by one, and then in groups, others in the class followed their lead, standing on their desks in silent salute to Mr. Keating.

Related Symbols: Standing on the Desk
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:
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Standing on the Desk Symbol Timeline in Dead Poets Society

The timeline below shows where the symbol Standing on the Desk appears in Dead Poets Society. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Life, Death, and “Carpe Diem” Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Rebellion and Passion Theme Icon
...English. Mr. Keating walks into class without a jacket. Without wasting a moment, he jumps onto his desk and shouts, “O Captain! My Captain!” He explains that the phrase is from a poem... (full context)
Chapter 7
Life, Death, and “Carpe Diem” Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Conformity and Success Theme Icon
Rebellion and Passion Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Love Theme Icon
...that humans must learn how to let their true natures speak. Suddenly, he jumps up onto his desk , saying, “We must constantly force ourselves to look at things differently.” He invites the... (full context)
Chapter 15
Life, Death, and “Carpe Diem” Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Conformity and Success Theme Icon
Rebellion and Passion Theme Icon
...you, Todd.” Nolan orders Keating to get out of the class immediately. Tearfully, Todd stands on his desk and calls, “O Captain! My Captain!” As Nolan shouts for Todd to step down, most... (full context)