The Lords of Discipline
|The Lords of Discipline|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||The Great Santini|
|Followed by||The Prince of Tides|
The novel's narrator, Will McLean, attends the Carolina Military Institute (a fictional military college based on The Citadel) in Charleston, from 1963 to 1967. The novel takes place in four parts. The first describes the beginning of his senior year and the admission of new freshmen into the plebe system. The second is an extensive flashback into his own plebe year. The third focuses on the main body of his senior year and his conflict with the plebe system. The fourth and final part relates to Will's battle against the mysterious Ten.
As an Irish-American Roman Catholic from Savannah, Georgia, Will is an outsider and finds life as a "knob" or "plebe" (a first-year cadet in training) at the Institute to be physically and emotionally brutal. But he finds solace in three boys who become his great friends: Tradd St. Croix, an "old Charlestonian" (from a very rich and respected family); Dante "Pig" Pignetti; and Mark Santoro, two brawny, Northern boys of Italian descent. He also respects the tough-talking, cigar-chomping Colonel "Bear" Berrineau (based on Thomas Nugent "The Boo" Courvoisie, a former Commandant at The Citadel) who asks the senior cadet McLean to look out for the Institute's first black cadet, Tom Pearce. But McLean's journey to manhood is full of twists and turns, as he meets a girl whose life he can never be a part of and hears rumors of The Ten, a mysterious Institute secret society that ensures certain cadets, deemed unacceptable to "wear the ring" (that is, to be a graduate of the Institute, who wear an exquisite ring denoting their alma mater), are run out by any means necessary.
Although Conroy drew on his experiences as a cadet at The Citadel, as well as stories from similar military schools during the 1960s to create the setting for the story, he has explicitly stated that the novel's plot and principal characters are a product of his imagination.
Aspiring novelist and basketball player, Will McLean, finds himself a college student at the Carolina Military Institute (The Citadel—thinly disguised). Will was not interested in the military, but he promises his dying father that he will attend his alma mater. Will doesn't exactly excel in military studies, but he's a decent student, an athlete, and his professors and peers recognize him for his integrity and his sense of fairness. Still, this is not an easy time to be a student in a military academy—especially in the South. The Vietnam War was raging, the military was unpopular and desegregation was knocking on the doors of Southern schools. The Fourth Class system is brutal at best, and most cadets will look on their freshman year and Hell Night as living nightmares. There are also rumors of a powerful and clandestine group of Institute students and alumni called The Ten. While nothing has come forward to prove their existence, the possibility of such a group casts a cloud over the Corps of Cadets.
Will and his roommates have survived the trials and tribulations of their underclassmen years. But circumstances change very rapidly. The first black student enrolls at the Institute and Will is asked to be a secret mentor to Cadet Tom Pearce. It quickly becomes apparent that a group of cadets is trying to run Pearce out of the Institute. Will steps in to intervene, and he discovers a truth so horrendous that this knowledge can bring down the Institute. It also makes Will and his roommates targets. Not only is their graduation now in jeopardy, but their lives are also in danger.
The four parts
The novel opens with a brief explanation of why Will is writing about The Institute. He is not relating a nostalgic tale of fond memories, but a mixed tale of hatred and love for his college.They also talk about most of the characters such as Tradd and his non-cooperative parents who seem not to be communicating very well.
The second part is "The Taming, Plebe Year." Will recalls the fear that was born in him when he was introduced to military life. He relives Hell Night, the night the plebes are tested physically and mentally to the point of breaking - and many do break. Will learns that the only way to survive is to bond closely with the other members of his class against the cadre.
The third part is "The Wearing of the Ring." Will and the other seniors are given their Institute rings in an elaborate ceremony. Wearing the ring is a symbol of loyalty and complete devotion to The Institute and all it stands for. The men who wear it have worked hard to earn the right and hold the ring sacred.
The last part is called "The Ten." Annie Kate's child dies in the womb and Will finds out what it is like to lose one's first love. Will's search for The Ten takes a very dangerous turn. He finds out information that could cause serious trouble for him and for his roommates.
The novel was adapted for the screenplay of a 1983 film of the same name, starring David Keith as Will McLean and Robert Prosky as Colonel "Bear" Berrineau. The film version took place entirely in McLean's senior year, when he was asked to protect Pearce. Several plot points were changed for the film:
--In the novelization, Poteete hangs himself after one encounter with the Ten. In the film, he attempts to leap from one rooftop to another, but he misses and falls to his death.
--After his Walk of Shame, Pignetti commits suicide by walking into the path of a speeding train, but in the film, he simply gets into a taxicab called for him and is never seen again. The film says that as part of deal with Durrell, Pignetti was to be reinstated at the Institute's next year to earn his incomplete credits.
--The entire plotline concerning McLean and Annie Kate Gervais, the mother of his roommate Tradd St Croix's illegitimate—and ultimately stillborn—child, was cut out of the film.
--In the film, Pearce apologizes for turning his back on McLean, explaining that he did it because of survival, and if he didn't make it, "the next nigger has my record around his neck like a rock." In the novelization, McLean has no further contact with Pearce after that.
--Tradd's motivation for joining the Ten is never completely explained in the film, and the entire "Honey Prince" subplot of Tradd's effeminate nature is disposed of, apart from a brief aside by Tradd's father Commerce in the opening, where he commends Will for looking soldierly and masculine, whereas Tradd cannot seem to look masculine "even if he was in a suit of armor". Instead, his motivation is that he did it to make his father proud of him.