What are some similarities and differences between the movie Dead Poets Society and the novel Catcher in the Rye?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I find that the most significant similarity between both works is their emphasis on authenticity of character.  Mr. Keating strives for his students to "seize the day" and listen to their own voices in the construction of reality.  Holden seeks to do much of the same and rails against the conformity in his world.  The avoidance of "phonies" is a driving force in both works.  The cultural time period of both works is also significant, as the decade of the 1950s is put "on trial" in both.  I would also say that the indictment of the preparatory school culture is something that both works feature in a fairly strong fashion.  At the same time, there are significant points of divergence.  Salinger's work is much more bleak in its forecast or hope for human redemption than Weir's film.  The depiction of adults in Salinger's work is also much more dire and dour than the liberating figure of Mr. Keating, who truly does care for the well- being of his students.  This is in stark contrast to the adults at Pencey Prep, who are more concerned with increasing the endowment of the school and making money or are thoroughly withdrawn from students.  Finally, there is a stronger message of social solidarity in the film than in Salinger's work.  The closing moments of each testify to this.  When the boys stand on their desk, in opposition to the principal, and honor Mr. Keating with "O Captain, My Captain," there is a distinct and real feeling of social solidarity.  The last line of Holden's narrative indicates that there is little hope for social connection and solidarity with others.

mdelmuro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many similarities between The Catcher in the Rye and Dead Poets Society, the biggest of which being the suffering of privileged white teenage boys. This is not meant as an insult, but as a way to understand that suffering and alienation can occur regardless of someone’s socioeconomic status. Here are some specifics:

  1. Holden attends Pencey Prep and has attended a few other boarding schools, but has failed out of each. The setting of DPS is Weston Prep and each of the boys suffers through varying levels of success and failure. Meanwhile, this setting of prep schools makes clear two things: 1. The boys doubt their parents’ love for them, and 2. They are surrounded by male teachers who don’t understand them.
  2. In DPS, Mr. Keating’s instruction inspires many of the boys to challenge the direction of their lives and become “free thinkers.” In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden does not want to become an adult and follow in the footsteps of his father to become a lawyer or follow in the footsteps of his adult brother D.B., who left the purity of short story writing to work in Hollywood.

Like any coming of age work, both The Catcher in the Rye and Dead Poets Society include characters that challenge social norms in order to figure out their own life paths.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The similarities between the movie Dead Poets Society (1989) and Catcher in the Rye stem from the fact that the protagonists in both works are adolescent boys who are suffering from alienation while at private schools. In Dead Poets Society, Neil Perry, the protagonist, feels alienated from his prestige-focused family and wants to pursue acting, to his father's disgust. Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye feels alienated from his parents and his siblings (though he has a good relationship with his youngest sister). As a result, both characters endure emotional turmoil and eventual emotional collapse—though Neil resorts to suicide, while Holden has a nervous breakdown and is institutionalized.

The differences between the book and movie are that Holden is also alienated from his teachers, including Mr. Spencer, who he visits at the beginning of the novel after finding out he is expelled from school. However, Neil Perry feels connected to his teacher, John Keating, who encourages Neil's love of literature. In the movie, Neil finds sympathy and understanding from one of his teachers, while Holden does not really find this type of connection with anyone. 

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The Catcher in the Rye

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