Caveat lector! Character sheets are littered with spoilers.
Mr. John Keating
- Played by: Robin Williams
The new English 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 and manages to fill his students with enthusiasm to study literature, especially poetry, and life in general.
- Fired Teacher: He is kicked out 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. Charlie in particular looks up to him so much that he'd rather be expelled than sell him out.
- 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. As he tells the boy in an earlier draft of the script, Welton is far from a perfect school, but it still provides the students great opportunities that shouldn't be wasted.
- Save Our Students: He wants to get his students interested and make them believe that their lives matter and should be special.
- The Scapegoat: Welton and the Perrys blame him for Neil's suicide, when Neil's father was responsible for most of it. He also gets blamed for the boys restarting the Dead Poets Society, even though they did so of their own volition and he didn't know about it.
- 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 unrelenting expectations lead him to commit suicide.
- Ambiguously Gay: He and Todd are very, uh... close.
- Bad Liar: Mr. Keating is quick to see through 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: He's bright, popular, sporty, in numerous clubs, Harvard-bound, and clearly the leader in his group of friends, yet he is trapped in a troubled relationship with his overbearing and controlling father and sees no way out.
- Bromance: With Todd. Despite Todd's shyness, they quickly bond and end up the closest of the poets.
- Cannot Spit It Out: Neil can never bring himself to tell his father how he feels; his father considers acting an off-limits activity.
- He can't even be honest with Mr. Keating in regards to discussing the possibility of acting, and he's so ashamed of fibbing to Mr. Keating, that he didn't even listen to what Mr. Keating had to say, leaving Keating with a confused look on his face.
- The Complainer Is Always Wrong: After his dad consults with Dean Nolan and they decide he can work on the school annual next year, they step outside the dorm room, where he quietly and firmly tells Neil that he won't tolerate any of his complaints, demanding unquestioning obedience to his wishes.:Neil: But Father, I'm the assistant editor!
Mr. Perry: I'm sorry, Neil.
Neil: But, Father, it's not fair! I..."
** Later, at the Perrys' home:Mr. Perry: Tomorrow I'm withdrawing you from Welton and enrolling you in Braighton Military School. You're going to Harvard, and you're gonna be a doctor.
Neil: But that's 10 more years, Father. Don't you see, that's a lifetime!
Mr. Perry: Oh, stop it! Don't be so dramatic! You make it sound like a prison term! You don't understand, Neil! You have opportunities that I never even dreamt of, and I am not going to let you waste them!
Neil: I've got to tell you what I feel!
Mrs. Perry: We've been so worried about you!
Mr. Perry: What? What? Tell me what you feel! What is it? Is it more of this, this acting business? Because you can forget that! What?
- 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, he plays a lethal game of Russian Roulette.
- Extracurricular Enthusiast: His extracurricular activities are reduced when his dad consults with Dean Nolan to discontinue working on the school annual.
- Forged Letter: He types one up and forges his father's signature to try out for A Midsummer Night's Dream at Henley Hall.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Sanguine.
- Gayngst-Induced Suicide: Neil's Ambiguously Gay status makes him a possible victim of this trope when he commits suicide.
- 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.
- Poor Communication Kills: After his father discovers the forged letter and forces him to quit the play, he has an uneasy feeling, lying to Keating about his father giving him permission, and Keating has a bit of a puzzled look on his face. Once the rumor becomes true, the level of trust has deteriorated between Neil and his dad. When Neil is withdrawn from Welton by his father, he can't even come up with another subject that isn't related to acting.
- 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 outgoing and 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.
- Played by: Ethan Hawke
A new student at Welton, and Neil's roommate. He starts out as the most timid of the poets, but gains confidence thanks to Keating and Neil's encouragement.
- Abusive Parents / Parental Neglect: In contrast to the pressure that Neil suffers, Todd's parents view him as the family disappointment, don't expect him to amount to anything and forget he exists most of the time. A Deleted Scene reveals his dad equated his value as a person to his chemical worth unless he made something of himself.
- Always Someone Better: Both his parents and staff adore his brother Jeffrey, who was apparently Valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar. And they don't mind shoving it in Todd's face.
- Ambiguous Disorder: He shows several signs of suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder.
- Ambiguously Gay: His relationship with Neil is pretty... intense.
- Bromance: With Neil. The two are very close and it's established that Neil is Todd's only good relationship, at least at first.
- Beware the Quiet Ones: Can hardly string two sentences together initially, is overlooked by most of Welton and the last to be pulled in to confess about the Dead Poets Society, as Nolan clearly isn't expecting any resistance. He ends up leading an all-out rebellion against Nolan to defend Keating, and half the class follows him. Whoops.
- Bromantic Foil: To the confident and outgoing Neil.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Todd is the Melancholic.
- Grew a Spine: As the movie goes on, he becomes more confident; culminating in standing up for Keating in the final scene.
- 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.
- The Quiet One: Even after he settles in at Welton, he's reserved and soft-spoken.
- 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 the other boys) and avoids eye contact. He gets better, though.
- Speech Impediment: Going with his shyness, he suffers from a noticeable stutter when talking to most people.
- 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.
- The Un-Favourite: To a devastating extent. His parents are frequently praising the accomplishments of his successful brother Jeffrey, who was class valedictatorian and National Merit Scholar.
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 experimentation, and whenever someone calls him "Charlie", he'll respond by saying, "It's Nuwanda, damnit!"
- Foil: To Richard Cameron.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Choleric.
- Hidden Depths: Generally the most thoughtless of the group and frequently teases the other boys. However after Neil's death, he's the one who takes the lead comforting Todd and is savvy enough to realize the school will pin the blame on the Dead Poets Society.
- 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 protects the group even after painful punishment from Nolan. After Neil's suicide, he's expelled rather than selling out Keating, in contrast to Cameron, who immediately finks on the Society.
- The McCoy: After Neil's death, Dalton shows strong outrage at Cameron's selling out to the faculty and their honor code, punching Cameron for ratting out the Society.
- 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 under the compulsion of corporal punishment.
- 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.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: After Cameron tells Dean Nolan about the Society's activities, Dalton, who has nothing to lose now that Keating is about to be removed from his teaching position and the Society is about to be dissolved, gets expelled for punching Cameron after the confrontation.
- 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.
- 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 Noel.
- The Charmer: He is smitten with Chris and attempts to gain her love.
- The Determinator: He's going to get Chris if it's the last thing he does.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Phlegmatic.
- Hypocrite: Knox, who had no objections to visiting Chris at her high school, is berated by Chris when she visits him at Welton before Neil's performance:Knox: Chris... what are you doing here?
Mr. Keating [offscreen]: Gentlemen, let's go!
Knox: Go ahead guys, I'll catch up.
Dalton: Yeah, come on guys.
Knox: Chris, you can't be in here. If they catch you, we're both gonna be in big trouble.
Chris: Oh, but it's fine—
Knox: Shh, sh, Chris...
Chris: Oh, but it's fine for you to come barging into my school and make a complete fool out of me?
- The Kirk: After Neil's death, Knox takes on this role to try and calm Todd after his emotional breakdown in response to Neil's death as well as trying to restrain Charlie from punching out Cameron's lights.
- 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?
- 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, worrying about being caught and upholding the school's honor code over his fellow students.
- The Friend Nobody Likes: For good reason: He betrays Keating to save his own ass, facing expulsion if he doesn't uphold the honor code and be truthful in describing the Society's activities.
- 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.
- The Informant: When Charlie acts as the Society's unofficial spokesman and publishes an article saying that girls should be admitted to Welton, Cameron keeps a convenient, detailed record of everything that happened, which he eagerly uses to inform Dean Nolan of the Society's activities.
- 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.
- Jerkass Has a Point: When "Nuwanda" writes a letter recommending that girls should be admitted to Welton, Cameron tells Charlie that Dean Nolan will eventually find out who pulled the prank, which will lead to an investigation of the Society and its activities, which starts after Charlie makes a prank phone call claiming God told him that Welton should admit girls. Even the rest of the group agree that Charlie shouldn't have risked all their necks for his prank.
- Later, Cameron's suspicions are proven right after Dean Nolan can get no further information from Charlie. He takes a dim view of Keating's unconventional methods which go contrary to Welton's traditional values, which Nolan believes are firmly established and not to be questioned.
- Laser-Guided Karma: After he rats out the Society to save himself, Charlie punches him in the face.
- 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.
- The Spock: Cameron is the one who is even more reluctant than Todd to attend the Society's meetings as a non-participant, concerned about the faculty members finding out about the Society, which changes after Neil's suicide when he becomes the informant who upholds the school's honor code to avoid being punished by Dean Nolan.
- Teacher's Pet: Unlike his classmates, he fully embraces Welton's honor code and does everything that is asked of him by the teachers without hesitation.
- Turncoat: His switching allegiances from the Society to Dean Nolan results in Keating's forced resignation after Neil's death.
- Played by: Allelon Ruggiero
The smartest member of the Dead Poets Society.
- Deadpan Snarker: Mostly in regards to Charlie's antics.
- Embarrassing Surnames / Unfortunate Names: Lampshaded by Keating.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Steven is the Supine.
- Nice Guy: He tutors Charlie in almost every subject.
- The Smart Guy: Charlie calls him a genius because he tutors his friends in every subject since he grasps the material rather quickly.
- Those Two Guys: With Pitts.
- Played by: James Waterston
The final member of the Dead Poets Society.
- Embarrassing Surnames / Unfortunate Names: Lampshaded by Keating.
- The Generic Guy: He doesn't have much characterization or a story arc; in fact, his comparative normalcy serves to heighten the unorthodox nature of his friends.
- Those Two Guys: With Meeks.
Dean Gale Nolan
- Played by: Norman Lloyd
- Corporal Punishment: He chastises Charlie's buttocks 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.
- 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, nor will he be allowed to work on the school annual.
- 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 by a forged letter of permission.
- 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 and 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 an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Neil's death that results in Keating's dismissal from Welton, with no further mention of any grief he may experience after Neil takes his life.
- Knight Templar Parent: After Neil's death, he urges the Welton faculty members to conduct a thorough investigation of Mr. Keating and the Dead Poets' Society.
- Meddling Parents: He is so determined that Neil should become 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 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.
- Keating incorrectly surmises that Neil can do what he wants as soon as he's 18 years old, which is contrary to Mr. Perry's plans, telling Neil that as soon as Neil has graduated from college (when he reaches 25), only then he can experience freedom.
- Obliviously Evil: Mr. Perry seems to be a well-intentioned father who does care about Neil's well-being but just can't comprehend the real effect his actions have on his son.
- Perpetual Frowner: He rarely smiles: when shaking hands with Dean Nolan, and greets the students before telling Neil that he and the Dean have decided that he should resign from the yearbook staff. Otherwise, his reactions to Neil's rebellious tendencies aren't very happy ones.
- Vicariously Ambitious: He hopes that Neil will get to experience opportunities he never had when his son becomes a doctor, with his hopes and aspirations ending tragically and abruptly when Neil commits suicide.
Mr and Mrs Anderson
- Played by: John Cunningham and Debra Mooney
- Abusive Parents / Parental Neglect: Barely seem to remember Todd exists most of the time and neither care about his obvious anxiety and shyness. A deleted scene spells out how emotionally abusive Mr Anderson was:Todd: "You know what Dad called me when I was growing up? "Five ninety-eight." That's what all the chemicals in the human body would be worth if you bottled them raw and sold them. He told me that was all I'd ever be worth unless I worked every day to improve myself."
- Jerkass: Mr Anderson spends his little screentime berating Todd or barking orders at him.
- Parental Favouritism: Much prefer their oldest son Jeffrey who was Valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar over Todd.
- Small Role, Big Impact: They only appear in two scenes, but their influence on Todd is present throughout the film.
- Played by: Alexandra Powers
- Everyone Loves Blondes: Knox sure does.
- Nice Girl: And that's... basically her only trait.
- Only Sane Man: She's the only sensible one between violent, hot-blooded Chet and obsessive, romantic Knox; including telling Chet off for overreacting and pointing out to Knox that he doesn't properly know her.
- Satellite Love Interest: To Knox. She doesn't have any other role in the movie than to be pretty and to be loved.
- Tomboyish Name: Her name is short for Christina, but she usually goes by Chris, which is often a guy's name.
- 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.