Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Lords of Discipline

Go To
"Happiness is an accident of nature, a beautiful and flawless aberration."
"Evil would always come to me disguised in systems and dignified by law."
Will McLean

The Lords of Discipline is a 1980 novel by Pat Conroy about a young man's experiences at a South Carolina military college called the Institute (loosely based on Charleston's real life military college, the Citadel) in the 1960s. The main character, Will McLean, narrates the novel as himself looking back on his time at the Institute, beginning with the start of his senior year, then flashing back to his freshman (or "plebe") year, and finally finishing out with the rest of senior year.

The Institute is a very strictly run military institution, which often rubs the irreverent Will the wrong way. In particular, it has an extremely brutal hazing ritual. Every year the freshman class is brutalized for the entirety of their "plebe year" by The Cadre, a group of upperclassmen specifically designated to make their lives hell. About half of every freshman class drops out by the end of the year. Anyone the Cadre deems as failing to measure up is singled out and "Tamed" (bullied to an almost superhuman extreme). However, the few that survive the Taming and refuse to quit but still fail to measure up seem to eventually disappear from the school. The rumor is that a secret organization called The Ten strictly enforce their own guidelines on who is and is not fit to graduate and become an Institute Man. For the most part, Will is disconnected from these rumors and doesn't really care whether the Ten are real or not, but that changes when he is put in charge of making sure that Tom Pearce, the Institute's first ever black student, makes it through his plebe year.


The novel was adapted into a film in 1983 that was directed by Franc Roddam and starred David Keith as Will McLean.

The Lords of Discipline provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Will indicates that his father was physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive.
  • Agent Peacock: Tradd, to some extent. He's soft-spoken, artistic, and often mocked for his perceived effeminacy. However, he's one of the best-performing cadets in his class, and even becomes the first in his storied family to win the prestigious Star of the East medal. He also turns out to be a member of the Ten, an elite (if evil) society that inducts only the ten most excellent students every year.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Played very straight.
  • The Baby Trap: Abigail and Tradd accuse Annie Kate of attempting this. For her part, she firmly denies it.
  • Badass Boast: When Will has finally outmaneuvered the Ten, the General asks him snidely what he thinks his place will be in the history of the Institute. Will replies that he intends to write that history.
    • Pig is also fond of these: "I say fuck them and the horses they rode in on. If they try to hurt anybody in this room, then they'll have Dante Pignetti paying them a social visit. If they give us any shit I'll tie Cain Gilbreath up to the tracks and get the name of every single one of them. Then I'll pay lots of social visits. I'll wear white gloves and full dress and I'll kick ass so hard they'll think it was D-Day on this campus."
  • Badass Teacher: Colonel Reynolds. Also the Bear, although he's actually the Commandant of the Cadets, not an actual teacher.
  • Berserk Button: Don't ever insult Pig's girlfriend Teresa. Or dance too close to her. Or curse in front of her picture. Or look at it. Or say her name, for that matter.
  • Big Bad Friend: Tradd, to the nth degree.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Against all odds, Will and Mark maneuver the General into being forced to allow them to graduate, and it's hinted that the power of the Ten has been forever shaken. However, Pig is dead and Tradd has been revealed as a traitor and the man who deserted Annie Kate during her pregnancy, leading Will and Mark to cut ties with him and his family forever. Moreover, Will reveals that Mark dies in Vietnam soon after graduation.
  • Blue Blood: Class divisions within Charleston are a major theme in the novel. Will envies the beauty and delicacy of the lives of the Charlestonian aristocrats living south of Broad Street. When he meets Annie Kate, a society girl who's been temporarily disgraced by her Teen Pregnancy, he falls in love only to be rebuffed by her for, among other reasons, being too lower class. Will's roommate Tradd and his family are also examples and ironically treated Annie Kate the same way she treated Will when she became pregnant with Tradd's child, as her father was lower class and therefore she was seen as an unsuitable wife for the truly blue-blooded Tradd.
  • Convenient Miscarriage: Sort of. Annie Kate refuses to ever face up to the reality of her pregnancy, and lo and behold her child is stillborn, causing the end of her and Will's relationship.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Pig.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: An astounding number of little details end up circling around and becoming relevant by the end. Some examples are Commerce's (extremely thorough) journals, the Honor Code, and the train.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Will criticizes himself throughout the novel for this. It gets him and his friends into a lot of trouble.
    Will McLean: Anyone who knows me well must understand and be sympathetic to my genuine need to be my own greatest hero. It is not a flaw of character; it is a catastrophe.
  • Colonel Badass: Colonel Reynolds and Colonel "The Bear" Berrineau, although both are retired from field service.
  • Comical Overreacting: Pig's tendency to tackle anyone who says anything that might even remotely cast aspersion on Teresa.
  • Driven to Suicide: Poteete in the first act of the book, foreshadowing when it happens to Pig in the last act.
  • Embarrassing Nick Name: Tradd "The Honey Prince" St. Croix, a reference to his somewhat effeminate mannerisms and a persistent rumor around campus of him being homosexual.
  • A Father to His Men: The General likes to think of himself as this. The Bear really is one.
  • The Film of the Book: Made into a film starring David Keith as Will in 1983.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Will (melancholic) and his roommates Pig (sanguine), Mark (choleric), and Tradd (phlegmatic).
  • Gallows Humor: The graffiti the cadets write often contains this, most notably "Dante Pignetti was railroaded out of the Institute".
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted. Annie Kate was at first in denial about her pregnancy and then too much in shock to consent to an abortion. By the time Will asks her about it and she's several months along, she wishes she'd gone through with it when it was offered.
  • Gratuitous Italian: Pig is on occasion guilty of this. Most notably, he refers to all of his roommates as "paisans."
  • Grande Dame: Abigail St. Croix is a rare example of the "saintly 'great lady'" subtype of this.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The St. Croixs are largely responsible for their own downfall as well as the Ten's. If Commerce hadn't been so open about his extremely thorough journals (including letting his son's friends know where he keeps the key), or if he hadn't gone to the Parade with the one other member of the Ten he should've been sure that the boys knew about, or if Abigail hadn't conspired to introduce Will to Annie Kate things probably wouldn't have turned out so badly for them.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Annie Kate and her mother have become this. They still keep their houses for reasons of pretension, although they can't afford to keep them up.
  • Infallible Babble: Despite being a secret society, pretty much everyone who's ever attended the Institute has heard of the Ten. In fact, sternly claiming that they don't exist is usually a sure sign that a character is actually a member.
  • In-Series Nickname: Dante "Pig" Pignetti and the Colonel "The Bear" Berrineau.
  • Large Ham: Pig, amusingly enough.
  • Living with the Villain: Again, Will's roommate and best friend Tradd.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Tradd was implied to be one of these before meeting Will and the rest of his roommates. By the end of the book, he is again.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: The Ten carry out all of their activities in masks to hide their identities from their victims. Also, Will, Mark and Pig wear Halloween masks to hide their identities when they kidnap and interrogate a former member of the Ten.
  • Military School: The backdrop of the novel.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Tradd.
  • The Mole: Tradd.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: Annie Kate is pretending to be in school in California for the duration of her pregnancy. She constantly wears a raincoat when she's around her house, and when she gets too big to hide it that way, her mother sends her to live in seclusion at the family beach house.
  • Name of Cain: One of Will's acquaintances is named Cain, the implications of which Will frequently lampshades. It's not really a surprise when he turns up later in the story as an antagonist.
  • Noble Bigot: All of the sympathetic characters (except for Will) don't think a black student has any place at the Institute, but think he should be given a fair chance like the rest anyway.
  • No Pregger Sex: Averted. Will loses his virginity to Annie Kate when she's several months along, and it's stated that they're intimate at least a couple more times after that.
  • Old-School Chivalry: Tradd. Majorly subverted by the end.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: While both Pig's and the Bear's actual names are mentioned occasionally in passing, you can probably count the instances of usage of each on one hand.
  • Papa Wolf: The Bear. He refers to the students as "my little lambs," and while he doesn't (and can't) stop the institutionalized hazing, it's a well known fact on campus that if you're in trouble, you go the the Bear. In the end of the book he even helps Will knowing he'll be fired for it.
  • Preppy Name / Unfortunate Names: A lot of the upper class characters have somewhat ridiculous names (Commerce, Tradd, Cain), often for family reasons.
  • Princely Young Man: Tradd, who belongs to the "Gentlemanly" subdivision although he's revealed to have a large measure of the "Spoiled Brat" in him by the end.
  • Pyrrhic Villainy: It's plainly obvious how much Tradd has suffered by what he's wrought by the end of the novel.
  • Rambunctious Italian: Both of Will's Italian-American roommates, Mark and Pig, are tough fighters, though Pig to a much greater extent.
  • Secret Circle of Secrets: The Ten
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: Tradd St. Croix and his mother Abigail. Somewhat subverted when they are both revealed to be more than capable of cruelty in their own way.
  • Sissy Villain: Tradd, as it turns out.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: "The sweetness of Southern women often conceals the secret deadliness of snakes."
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: Turns into this by the end, with Will and Mark facing off against pretty much the entirety of Charlestonian society.
  • Southern Belle: Abigail St. Croix, although an older woman, is said numerous times to embody traditional Southern values.
  • Southern Gentleman: As it's set in a school noted to be popular among the elite sons of Southern society, it's not a surprise that the book is lousy with them. Notable examples include General Durell, Colonel Reynolds, and Commerce and Tradd St. Croix.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In The Film of the Book, Pig merely leaves the campus in a cab when he's expelled by the honor council, and Will is able to arrange for him to return and finish out next year in his negotiations with the General. In the book, he commits suicide out of shame by walking in front of a train.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Annie Kate conceived the summer before she was to start college.
  • Uptown Girl: Annie Kate and Will. Annie Kate's parents as well.
  • Wicked Cultured: Academic excellence and Southern manners are considered important qualifications for membership in the Ten, after all.

Alternative Title(s): The Lords Of Discipline


Example of: