Neil Perry is a confident and popular student who excels in his studies. He is well-liked by both his peers and teachers and is a natural leader. Inspired by his passionate English teacher, Mr Keating, he reestablishes the 'Dead Poets Society'. This shows that he is prepared to challenge the school's authority. Neil's aspirations to become an actor are snuffed by his controlling father who refuses to give Neil any choice about his future. As a result, Neil commits suicide at the end of the film.
Todd is a shy and introverted student who is new to Welton Academy. Todd's older brother was a previous valedictorian of Welton and both the school and his parents clearly have high expectations of him. An obedient and studious young man, Todd trys hard to please his teachers but lacks confidence at the beginning of the film and this prevents him from reaching his potential. However, both Neil and Mr Keating support and encourage him and he consequently develops considerably as a character. At the end of the film, he is the first student to stand on his desk in support of Mr Keating.
A former student of Welton Academy, as a teacher, Mr Keating is the boys' source of inspiration and encouragement. He makes poetry "drip from [their] tongues like honey," using it as a medium to encourage his charges to strive for excellence and individuality. He also introduces his students to the phrase, 'Carpe diem', a Latin expression that translates as 'Seize the day'. Mr Keating's teaching methodology is highly uncoventional and conflicts with Welton's four pillars: "Tradition, Honour, Discipline, Excellence". He is dismissed from his position at the end of the film, charged with causing Neil Perry to commit suicide.
Rebellious, recalcitrant and reckless, Charlie Dalton is the most extraverted and daring of Welton's students. He resists the authority of the school and is ultimately expelled for refusing to sign the document condemning Mr Keating. Attention-seeking and chauvanistic, he also invites two girls to the Dead Poets Society meetings. Though he admires and respects Mr Keating, he takes Keating's principles too far and takes several imprudent risks.
Though shy and academically focussed at the beginning of the film, Knox develops considerably as a result of his inchoate relationship with Chris. Romantic and idealistic, he pursues Chris relentlessly, applying Mr Keating's philosophies to his circumstance. By seizing the day and taking risks, he ultimately wins Chris, in spite of the fact that she is "practically married" to Chet Danberry, the son of a family friend. Knox's character is evidence of the positive effect of Mr Keating's teachings.
Meeks is the most academically gifted of the boys and; this is certainly his reputation amongst his peers. Though studious and compliant, he is well-liked by the others and is a strong supporter of Mr Keating. Like others, he reluctantly joins the Dead Poets Society but ultimately embraces all that it stands for.
Cameron is an assiduous and ambitious student who conforms totally with both the school's and his parents' expectations. Keen to succeed academically and win the favour of his teachers, he is very compliant and is prepared to betray his friends in order to further his own interests. Cameron is ultimately responsible for the dismissal of Mr Keating as he selfishly accuses Keating of encouraging Neil to commit suicide; he is complicit with the school's administrators.
Pitts is an insignificant character but is part of the core group of boys who form the Dead Poets Society. Tall and lanky, he is socially awkward and somewhat withdrawn. Though he is introverted and does not seem to take risks, he rises from his seat at the end of the movie, demonstrating that he clearly respects Mr Keating.
Mr Perry is Neil's paternalistic and dominating father. He is determined that Neil will finish school at Welton and study medicine. To this end, he ensures that Neil is focussed and not distracted by unnecessary extra-curricular activities such as the school magazine. Neil rebels against this but unable to confront his father, ultimately decides that he is "trapped". Mr Perry's refusal to support Neil's acting aspirations ultimately lead to Neil's death.