The Illocutionary Acts by Mr. Keating in the Movie Dead Poets Society


The purpose of this project is to analyze the speech acts in the performance of Mr. Keating as illustrated in the movie Dead Poets Society. This paper focuses on Scene 16 which brings into perspective the various types of illocutionary acts performed by Mr. Keating in the movie Dead Poets Society. The scene involves the conversation between Mr. Keating and his students. In this dialogue, Keating introduces himself then followed by a discussion based on a hymnal poem. The illocutionary acts of Mr. Keating in Scene 16 of the movie Dead Poets Society extract the contexts and objectives of the discussions. This research will use the movie transcripts and in-depth observation of the dialogues (Scene 16) of the main character, Mr. Keating in the film Dead Poets Society.


This is a mini-study research paper that attempts to identify and study the illocutionary acts performed by Mr. Keating. In the film, Mr. Keating is the protagonist in Dead Poets Society and tries as hard as he could to ensure ta that his students understand the importance of education. Mr. Keating breaks down the traditional approach of tutoring which is usually the textbook-based. The movie teaches the characteristics of a good teacher. Some of the characteristics of a good teacher as reckoned by Fajriyani (2018) include risk taker, positive attitude and inspiring students among other features. Mr. Keating possesses some of these characteristics which make him exceptional and inimitable to other teachers. His approach to tutoring is also different. The different types and forms of illocutionary acts include; assertive, directive, commissive expressive and declaration.

The aim of the study

The primary objective of this mini-study research paper is to gain obtain a proper understanding of the speech acts based on the different types and forms of illocution.

Research Questions

In order to understand the Speech acts performed by Mr. Keating, this research paper will be guided by the following research questions.

R1 – What are the types of illocutions performed or delivered by Mr. Keating to his students?

R2 – What is the most used type of illocution by Mr. Keating in his dialogues to his students?

Previous Research

Types of Illocution performed by Mr. Keating

Numerous authors and linguistic researchers have attempted to analyze speech acts present in films and poems by emphasizing their significance. In this study, approximately five research studies have been identified to establish a proper and concrete analysis of the likely forms illocutions in the movie, Dead Poets Society.  For example, Rumaria (2015, pg.66) has identified assertive as one of the major forms of illocution. According to Rumaria, the measure is assertive is brought into perspective when Mr. Keating starts his introduction by dispelling the prevailing rumors about his identify. He wants to ensure that the students remain focused on the most important things taught during the classroom session.

There is also the aspect of the directive approach in Mr. Keating’s approach. Directive illocution is evident in the classroom when the teacher gives directions to his students in making clarifications. In one of his statements, the teacher says, “Gather ye rosebuds while you may”. This is a directive appeal to embrace the day because every person at one time or another will eventually die. The speech act as reckoned by Fajriyani (2015, Pg. 13) in such a case is meant to establish a concrete statement to the students. The teacher wants his students to make early preparations and not caught unawares when leaving the earth. The movie also introduces the aspect of commissive illocution which involves making a pledge or commitment towards something. The teacher urges his students to act and behave responsibly because they will not be able to make amends during their deathbed. As postulated by Rumaria (2015; 67) the purpose of a commissive approach is to enhance the perceived connection between Mr. Keating and his students. The speech acts serve as an assurance that everyone is bound to become helpless at some point in life. The conversation between Mr. Keating and his students also introduces the aspect of expressive illocution. The teacher tries to use expressions as a way of ensuring that the students are attentive, keen and observant. The teacher wants to demonstrate to the students that if other students in the past few years managed to achieve excellent grades and scores, they also have the potential of doing better. Lastly, the aspect of a declaration is evident in the dialogue between the teacher and the students. A declaration, as affirmed by Schulman and Williams (1988, Pg.19), is the aspect of being honest to oneself.   The teacher applies the declaration tone when he challenges his students to live responsibly before leaving the earth. Mr. Keating uses the declaration to show the seriousness of the statements he is making to the students.

The Most Used Type of Illocution by Mr. Keating

Directive illocution is probably the most used approach in establishing an interactive dialogue between the teacher and the students. As postulated by Rantau and Diana (2018., Pg.7) directives in any interactive discussion usually take the lions to share (44% and above). Such a higher percentage is triggered by the fact that use of directive is meant to inspire and convince students to take a given course of action. The use of a directive approach is evident when Mr. Keating posed some questions to the students. For example, in Scene 16 (2:55), Mr. Keating has possed a question to the students, “Who knows what that means?” A directive approach is also evident in the scene when the teacher provides some piece of advice to the students. One of his pieces of advice to the students is to embrace the day.

Methods and Materials

This mini-research study will use both qualitative and quantitative methods to analyze and present data respectively. The use of a qualitative method assists in collecting data that indicates the characteristics of a good teacher in the Dead Poets Society. The data is presented in the form of a dialogue between the teacher and students. Since the scene contains description and explanation which is verbal form, the qualitative method becomes the most applicable method. In terms of the materials used, the study requires a Dead Poets Society film as well as the transcript of the poem.


The speech-act theory explains how words are used to present data as well as perform various forms of actions. For the past several years, the speech act theory has become a significant aspect of the modern theory of language. According to Searle’s (1969) view, a speaker can only achieve approximately five illocutionary points which include assertive, commissive, directive, declaratory and expressive measures.  A speaker achieves assertive measure when he/she represent things in the world. Commissive point is achieved when the speaker commits himself or herself in achieving something.  A directive point is achieved when the speaker attempts to get the audience to do something.  A speaker achieves a declaratory point when he/she wants to achieve certain things in the world by virtually uttering or saying them.  Lastly, an expressive point is achieved when the speaker expresses their attitudes about objects and facts.


The study by various authors has identified the various types and forms of illocutions. In scene 16, Mr. Keating performs several directives with the directive approach producing the highest frequency (44%).  This is because a teacher gives many directives to the students such as urging them to read, giving them assignments and urging them to make presentations and so forth. The commissive directive produces the lowest percentage (0.88%) since Mr. Keating seldom makes promises for the future.


Illocutions are used as speech acts to derive the real intentions and motives of the communication passed.  In essence, the illocutionary acts of Mr. Keating in scene 16 of the movie Dead Poets Society demonstrate the significance and content of the dialogue. The directive illocutionary act is probably the most used approach by Mr. Keating in establishing an interactive dialogue between the teacher and his students.  In most cases, the approach is based on the need for understanding the needs of and directing them towards the most suitable course of actions.  Evidently, illocutionary acts in the interaction with students have been informative in inculcating meaning to conversations.



Fajriyani, R. N, 2018.  “A Pragmatic Study On The Expressive Utterances Produced By The Characters In The Movie” Dead Poets Society”. Diss. Universitas Sebelas Maret. Accessed 5 Jan 2019.

Rantau, D., Diana R, 2018. Speech Act Analysis of Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones Hbo Tv Series. Diss. Universitas Mataram, 2018. Accessed 5 Jan 2019

Rumaria, C., 2015.  “An Analysis of Speech Acts in the Dead Poets Society.” Undergraduate Thesis. Yogyakarta: Yogyakarta Sate University, 2015. Accessed 5 Jan 2019.

Scene 16. The movie Dead Poets Society. Accessed 5 Jan 2019.

Schulman, T., Peter W., and Robin W, 1988. Dead Poets society. Supplied by Cinestore, Accessed 5 Jan 2019.

Searle, J.R, 1969. Speech Acts: an essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge: University Press.

Smith, B, 1988. “Materials Towards a History of Speech Act Theory”, in Eschbach, A. (ed.), Karl Bühler’s Theory of Language. Amsterdam, 125-52