Characters / Dead Poets Society

Caveat lector! Character sheets are littered with spoilers.

Mr. John Keating

Played by: Robin Williams
The new teacher and previous student at Welton. He inspires the boys to 'seize the day' and restart his old club, the Dead Poets Society.

  • Blithe Spirit: He tries to bring life and free-thinking to the school.
  • Cool Teacher: He teaches English. He manages to fill his students with enthusiasm to study literature and especially poetry, and life in general.
  • Fired Teacher: He is kicked out of the school after Neil's death.
  • Foil: His unorthodox teaching approaches stand out in sharp contrast to the old-school traditionalist Dean Nolan.
  • Mentor: He's the one who taught the class to live out their lives and look at life at a different angle.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: He approves of Charlie doing things as a clever way of going against the norm, but encourages him not to go so far as to get himself expelled by rebelling for the sake of rebelling.
  • The Scapegoat: Welton and the Perrys blame him for Neil's suicide, when Neil's father was responsible for most of it.
  • Save Our Students: He wants to get his students interested and make them believe that their life matters and should be special.

Neil Perry

Played by: Robert Sean Leonard
One of Keating's students, who decides to restart the Dead Poets Society. He has a strained relationship with his controlling father.

  • Abusive Parents: His dad's rigid expectations lead him to commit suicide.
  • The Ace: He's bright, popular, sporty, in numerous clubs, Harvard-bound, and clearly the leader in his group of friends.
  • Ambiguously Gay: He and Todd are very, uh... close.
  • Bad Liar: Mr. Keating is quick to see his lies when he says his dad was okay with him acting.
  • Big Man on Campus: Everyone adores him, and he's a talented actor as well as a good student.
  • The B Grade: There'll be hell to pay if he gets anything less than an A+ average.
  • Broken Ace: Desite his popularity, he's actually trapped by his controlling father and sees no way out.
  • Bromance: With Todd. Neil is instantly protective of him and the two are very close.
  • Decoy Protagonist: After his death, it becomes clear the true protagonist is Todd.
  • Driven to Suicide: After his father forbids him to perform in the theatre and is forced to withdraw him from Welton, Neil shoots himself with his father's pistol.
  • Extracurricular Enthusiast: Not his idea, but his father's.
  • I Die Free: After he's had his moment to shine even if it was for just one night, he tells himself: "I was good, I was really good", before he pulls the trigger rather than face boot camp.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The red to Todd's blue. He's much more passionate and ready to do things.
  • Stepford Smiler: He was miserable underneath his out-going, cheerful personality. It makes his death so very shocking.
  • Tragic Bromance: With Todd. Neil is immediately protective of Todd, and seemingly makes it his mission to bring him out of his shell. Then his own problems crush him, and he commits suicide, leaving his best friend more broken than before.

Todd Anderson

Played by: Ethan Hawke
A new student at Welton, and Neil's roomate. He starts out as the most timid of the poets, but gains confidence thanks to Keating and Neil's encouragement.

  • Grew a Spine: As the movie goes on, he becomes more confident.
  • New Transfer Student: As if his shyness wasn't bad enough.
  • Not So Different: Seems the complete opposite to the confident Neil, but it's revealed they both struggle with their parents' expectations.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The blue to Neil's red. He's much quieter and more introspective.
  • Shrinking Violet: He has trouble talking in class (or even one-on-one with his roommate) and avoids eye contact. He gets better, though.
  • Tragic Bromance: With Neil. Throughout the movie the pair grow extremely close, confiding their family problems and comforting each other in trouble. Neil especially builds Todd's broken self-esteem, resulting in Todd becoming happier and more confident in himself. Then Neil kills himself and Todd is left distraught and heartbroken; it's unclear if he'll ever really recover.
  • The Unfavourite: To a devastating extent. His parents don't value him at all and he's constantly compared to his successful brother Jeffrey.

Charlie "Nuwanda" Dalton

Played by: Gale Hansen
Another of Keating's students and the most rebellious member of the Dead Poets Society.

  • Brass Balls: As demonstrated with his "phone call from God" prank.
  • The Charmer: Not that he has much chance to be. He makes use of poem lines written by Shakespeare and Byron to seduce two girls he brings into the cave.
  • Class Clown: Always goofing off.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": After he starts getting involved with Gloria, he makes up the name "Nuwanda" in the spirit of experimemtation, and whenever someone calls him "Charlie", he'll respond by saying, "It's Nuwanda, damm it!"
  • Hot-Blooded: Definitely the most reckless of the boys.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: As much as he likes to goof around and mouth off, he does care about his friends and refuses to betray them, in contrast to Cameron, who finks on the Society after Neil's suicide and Keating's subsequent suspension.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Once he pulls off the "phone call from God" prank, Nolan starts to observe the students more cautiously, and as a result, Dean Nolan is aware of the Society's existence when Charlie is interrogated in his office.
  • Rebellious Spirit: As seen below, he's more than willing to defy authority.
  • Refuge in Audacity: After publishing an article in the student newspaper suggesting that girls be enrolled into Welton, he pranks the entire establishment by pretending to get a phone call from God endorsing the sentiment.
  • Undying Loyalty: Despite his careless attitude, he is extremely protective of his friends, refusing to betray them under a brutal beating and being expelled out of loyalty to Keating.

Knox Overstreet

Played by: Josh Charles
Member of Keating's class and the Dead Poets Society. Spends most of the movie attempting to win the love of local girl, Chris.

  • The Charmer: He is smitten with Chris Noel and attempts to gain her love.
  • The Determinator: He's going to get Chris if it's the last thing he does.
  • Love at First Sight: Struck dumb when he sees Chris for the first time.
  • Mistaken Identity: At the Danburry house, a drunken Chet mistakes him for "Mighty" Mutt Sanders' brother, which he vehemently denies.
  • Stalker With a Crush: Yeah, he's nice, and he means Chris no harm, but still. Following her to school? Really?

Richard Cameron

Played by: Dylan Kussman
Another classmate, who is grudgingly accepted into the Dead Poets Society.

  • Dirty Coward: He betrays his classmates and informs the authorities about their secret poetry meetings...just to save his own skin.
  • Establishing Character Moment: He invites himself into a study group with Neil then makes fun of Todd before even meeting him.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Turns out that the below trope is justified; people were right not to like him, since later he betrays everyone.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: For good reason. He betrays Keating to save his own ass.
    • It's even made clear in the movie that the only reason he is a member is because, being Charles' roommate, they can't hide the meetings from him.
  • Honor Before Reason: He spills the beans to uphold Welton's honor code over expulsion at the expense of Keating and the Society.
  • It's All About Me: He doesn't care what happens to Keating and the rest of the Society after telling the administration about it since he got off scot free.
  • Jerkass: He wasn't pleasant to begin with, but betraying the Society? Dick move, dude.
  • Smug Snake: He betrays the Society and encourages the others to do the same. When Charlie punches him, he gloats that now Charlie is going to be expelled for sure.
  • Teacher's Pet

Steven Meeks

Played by: Allelon Ruggiero

The smartest member of the Dead Poets Society.

Gerard Pitts

Played by: James Waterston

The final member of the Dead Poets Society.

Principal Nolan

Played by: Norman Lloyd

  • Corporal Punishment: He beats Charlie with a paddle after he plays a prank on the establishment, which is very painful since his paddle has holes drilled in it to make the blows more aerodynamic and swift.
  • Dean Bitterman: He is a stuffy old authoritarian who believes in physical punishment and uniformity.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: His beliefs and values were likely the norm when he was a young man, and his belief in following the curriculum would have been an admirable thing several years ago. Nowadays? Not so much, and certainly not by the time the movie was released in.
  • Hidden Depths: He discusses his time as an English teacher with Mr. Keating around the middle of the film.
  • Jerkass: There's a number of moments where his conduct goes past being justifiable.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Most of the time, he's just doing his job as the principal of the school.

Tom Perry

Played by: Kurtwood Smith

  • Abusive Parents: He's overly controlling and unfeeling towards his only son.
  • Berserk Button: He hates being talked back to or contradicted by Neil.
  • Control Freak: He wants his son to go to Harvard and become a doctor and won't let him do anything else.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: His son has straight A's and is willing to study what his father wants him to do. Poor Neil still can't do any community theatre.
  • Honor Before Reason: He is more concerned about his reputation, which has been tarnished when Neil commits to the play and makes the rumor true, and would rather have Neil fulfill his parents' wishes, than risk being made to look foolish.
  • It's All About Me: His reaction to Neil's suicide is to scream, "My son, my son!" A subtle indication that he only sees Neil as an extension of himself and the vehicle for his legacy. This fits perfectly with the controlling, domineering behavior he displays in every other interaction they have.
  • Jerkass: Would it really be so hard to just listen to Neil for once?
  • Karma Houdini: Not only does he never receive any comeuppance for his role in Neil's suicide, he doesn't even seem to realize he was at fault. Instead, he starts a witchhunt that ends up getting Keating fired, and as far as the audience knows, he walks away secure in his smug self-righteousness.
  • Meddling Dad: He is so hell-bent on Neil becoming a doctor, he consults Nolan to discontinue Neil's future involvement with the school yearbook, forbidding Neil to speak in his own defense especially when he removes him from Welton after the play has concluded, only to be so blinded by his hopeful ambitious goals for Neil becoming a doctor, he calls for an investigation into Mr. Keating's Dead Poets Society's activities after Neil's suicide.
  • Never My Fault: How he plays out Neil's suicide. Instead of admitting he was wrong for forcing Neil to become a doctor, he blames Mr. Keating for everything.
  • Obliviously Evil: Mr. Perry seems to be a well-intentioned father who does care about Neil's well-being - he just can't comprehend the real effect his actions have on his son.

Chris Noel

Played by: Alexandra Powers


Played by: Colin Irving

  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: When at the Danburry's party, he mistakes Knox for Mutt Sanders' brother when drunk, threatening him later on when Knox makes a move for Chris.
  • Berserk Button: He blows a fuse when Knox flirts with Chris.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Apparently kissing his girlfriend on the forehead is grounds for beating the stuffing out of Knox.
  • Dumb Jock: Though probably smarter than one would think, as he had once attended Welton... before flunking out, as per Chris.
  • Jerk Jock: He's an obnoxious jock who threatens to kill Knox just for touching Chris.