Symbols and motifs

The film Dead Poets Society (1989) directed by Peter Weir contains several symbols and motifs. These offer a deeper significance to the events, drawing the viewer’s attention to the message in the story.


The mural

The mural on the wall of Welton Academy that depicts former pupils is the opening shot of the film. It is shown at key moments throughout the film, for instance when the boys sneak out of the school to the Indian cave for their first Dead Poets Society meeting. The image represents the connection between the past and the present, tradition and continuity. 

This connection is highlighted by the very first scene in the film that shows two freshmen posing for a photo in front of the mural - the present superimposed on the past. This symbol is also related to the old photos in the hallway of the school that Keating points out to the students during his first lesson, asking them to consider the thoughts of the boys who are now long gone, and how much they were like themselves.

The school banners

The banners that the four students carry during the school opening ceremony, each depicting a word of the Welton Academy “four pillars” motto, appear to fit the students’ respective personalities. 

Richard Cameron, who values traditional rules, carries the banner “Tradition”. Neil carries the banner “Excellence”, which is in line with him being not only a model student, but also a great talent on the stage. Knox carries the “Discipline” banner. By his own admission, Knox used to be a ver...

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