At the beginning of the novel, during the commencement day ceremony at Welton Academy, a single candle is lit and used to light other candles. This process, it’s explained, is supposed to symbolize the light of knowledge being passed form one generation to the next. The novel will explore how teachers pass knowledge to their students—not just forcing them to regurgitate the same knowledge over and over, as the candle metaphor might suggest, but encouraging them to think independently.
The timeline below shows where the symbol The Candle appears in Dead Poets Society. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...the elderly man walks across the room to where Welton’s new students sit carrying unlit candles. He lights each candle with his own—this ritual, Nolan says, symbolizes the light of knowledge... (full context)