Dead poets society

“An individual’s interaction with others & the world around them can enrich or limit their experience of belonging”

Discuss this view with detailed reference to your prescribed text & at least ONE other related text of your own choosing.

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An individual’s interaction can indeed enrich or limit one’s experience of belonging, as belonging is one of the essential needs of any human being. Belonging can be seen in the prescribed text of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society & Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, where the central characters are driven by their need to belong or not belong which is ultimately stimulated by the world & people around them.

The Crucible is based on the Salem community found in Massachusetts, a small & religious Puritan village of New England on the true story of how a group of young girls began the world famous Salem witch hunts that were responsible for the deaths of many innocent people due to their desperate need for belonging. The Salem community is set in an isolated area vastly distant from mainstream society, with its own social hierarchy, belief system & way of life. Its physical setting is metaphor of its seclusion and detachment from society, creating its non-belonging identity to the rest of the world.

Abigail Williams, the niece of the town’s reverend, becomes the catalyst for the play as her affair with John Proctor drives her great desires to belong as a wife. “I look for John Proctor who took me from my sleep & placed knowledge into my heart” says Abigail revealing that it was her relationship with Proctor that arouses her sense of belonging. After failing to belong alongside Proctor she searches for other ways in which she may belong, finding it among a group of girls within the village who are fed up of being treated as children & want to be accepted within the community as respected adults. By dancing in the woods, they confirm their isolation from the Salem community as they feel the repression of their natural inclination to dance when dancing is a whipping offence; however conjuring spirits that Abigail
did in order to kill Goody Proctor is a hanging offence.

Abigail’s sense of belonging to this group of girls is identified when we see that she is the mastermind behind the ‘crying out’ when she says: “Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you, and you I can do it” revealing her sense of belonging through her gain of power & control over the girls that partially satisfies her hunger for acceptance.

A major character in the play that demonstrates belonging/not belonging due to their interactions with surrounding people can be seen in the character of John Proctor. Initially he is an outsider in his own family caused by his affair with Abigail, and is also an outsider in the Salem church community due to his lack of church attendance generated by his dislike of Reverend Parris that, in turn leads to his detachment from the community itself & the Salem courts. The ideology that you can only either choose to conform or not can be seen in Danforth’s speech (A Salem magistrate) when saying to Proctor “A person is either with the court or against it, there be no road in between” suggesting that his interaction with Danforth limits his sense of belonging.

After being displaced in his own family, he finds refuge in his wife after he realises that she is paying the price for a sin that he committed, and his sense of belonging becomes clear in the sense that he chooses his wife over his name & place within society demonstrated when he says “I will fall like an ocean on this court!” showing that he has chosen to not belong & will stand to suffer the consequence; death.

There are always consequences of belonging or not belonging, and this is explored in Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society, a film set in the 1950’s about a single sex boys prep boarding school, Welton Academy, where tradition & conformity is essential until an English teacher (John Keating) arrives & revitalises the student’s way of thinking, approach to life and dares them to “suck out the marrow of life”.

Keating becomes the influence in the lives of a group of boys who unite to form an exclusive group called the Dead Poets Society who go against the status quo of the school & practise the freedom of “Carpe Diem” meaning Seize the Day” as they are enlightened on the fact that everyone only has a limited amount of days left & will soon be “fertilizing the dandelions”. So by seizing the day the young boys Neil, Todd, Charlie, Richard & other member of the Dead Poets Society exercise their minds in the art of free thinking and search their inner artists.

Neil a lively student with natural leadership qualities searches his inner self & finds that he has a passion for acting & in pursuing his dreams it is seen as an act of rebellion. Charlie Dalton falls in love with a high school girl, & in chasing the girl of his dreams, he tries to introduce the idea that Welton change from a single sex to unisex school. By doing this it undermines the ‘four pillars’ of Welton, tradition, discipline, honour & excellence which are enforced by the echelons of power & authority in the school, and in order to maintain discipline in the school conformity is physically enforced. This is seen as the principle asks Charlie to assume the position after telling him that “others have had similar actions, & they have failed just as surely as you will” then beating him showing him the consequences of not conforming.

Mr Keating himself represents the ideology of non-conformity itself through his unorthodox teaching methods. He gets the kids to literally stand on top of their desk & look at life from a different perspective & gets them out of the class room & into the playground. He discusses the issue of conformity by demonstration through the walk of 3 boys as they all begin at different strides then gradually all walk in unison while the rest of the class clapped in unison demonstrating the subconscious need of every human being to belong.

The restrictions of conformity can be seen in the use of constant cross-cutting of the interior wall & high ceiling of the school with the autumnal landscape. In one particular scene, the camera captures the flight of a flock of geese taking off into the vastness, where there are no
restriction & constraints. This is contrasted by the static shots of the inside of the imitation-gothic style buildings, where the colours of the environment are vibrant & dynamic symbolising the freedom of the geese in nature compared to the confined boys within the restrictions of Welton.

Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter however shows a different kind of belonging & consequence, where it tells the story of a young woman named Hester Prynne who commits adultery, bearing a child then forced to wear the letter ‘A’ on her bosom for the rest of her life, set in the 17th century in Boston. The type of belonging here is a different sort where the protagonist of forced instead of by choice, does not belong to society and then finds herself at peace with the fact that she doesn’t belong.

After her prison sentence & being made to stand bare in front of the whole town revealing her sin, she is then left to live on the outskirts of town in s small cottage by herself and her daughter Pearl. Although having the option to leave town & removing the letter in order to live a normal life with her daughter, Hester chooses not to leave embracing the letter rather than running away from it conveying Hester’s determination in creating her own identity rather than allowing others to do it for her. Here her sense of belonging is provoked during the affair with Arthur Dimmesdale where she experiences the true meaning of belonging to someone, as her marriage to ‘Roger Chllingworth’ is shown only as a union of convenience.

Hester Prynne is made to wear the symbol of shame ‘A’ that publicly humiliates her however it becomes an identity for her. Initially representing ‘adulterer’, it become the symbol of ‘able’ as she gradually gains dignity & self-respect though her charitable deeds & earning her reprieve from the ‘scorn’ of the community. Her isolation from the community is seen in Pearl’s inquisitive mind where she reveals “Mother, the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something in your bosom. . .It will not flee from me; for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!” highlighting the metaphor used by Hawthorne to depict Hester’s sin & dark past that isolates her from the rest of society.

The idea that an individual’s interaction with others & the world around them can enrich or limit their experience of belonging can be identified in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Peter Weir’s The Dead Poets Society and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Through the interactions of John Proctor, John Keating & Hester Prynne, it is concluded that when an individual’s sense of belonging is enriched or limited, it can have a detrimental effect in the individual and those around them that consequently are paid through the loss of life, pain or an enriching catharsis. In all texts we can evaluate that the protagonists would have rather died with their eyes open, than lived with them closed knowing that what keeps you alive is the sense of self-respect & conviction that the individual will never give up.

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Dead poets society. (2016, Aug 29). Retrieved from