The Lords of Discipline
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Preceded by||The Great Santini|
|Followed by||The Prince of Tides|
The story centers around Will McLean, who is in his fourth year at the fictional Carolina Military Institute is Charleston, South Carolina. Will’s experiences are heavily based on Pat Conroy’s own experiences at The Citadel, a real military college also in Charleston. The story is narrated in first person by Will, who attends the Institute between 1963 and 1967. Will recounts his years at the Institute, especially focusing on the school's brutal culture of hazing and abuse. After discovering a secret society that kidnaps and tortures freshmen deemed unworthy, Will and his friends' graduations and lives are threatened.
Although Conroy drew on his experiences as a cadet at The Citadel, he has said that the story is not based on his life or that of any other graduate of a military academy and is fictionalized. Conroy's novel received criticism from some Citadel alumni. Conroy was ostracized by his alma mater and effectively banned from campus for over 30 years after publishing the novel. In 2001, Conroy was invited back to campus where he gave the commencement address and was given a parade.
Will McLean, an English major on a basketball scholarship, is in his fourth and final year at the Carolina Military Institute in Charleston, South Carolina. Will is not interested in a military career, and had only attended as a deathbed promise to his father. He is well liked and his professors and peers recognize him for his integrity and his sense of fairness, although he is also sarcastic and independent. Will struggles to fit in the strict military environment, but finds solace in his three roommates, who have become his closest friends: Tradd St. Croix, the son of an upper class Charlestonian family and two brawny Italian-American boys from the North, Dante "Pig" Pignetti and Mark Santoro. They all look forward to graduation, although Will's friends will head off to fight in the Vietnam War, which Will is against.
Colonel Berrineau, the commandant of cadets who is commonly known as The Bear, asks the Will to look out for the Institute's first black cadet, Tom Pearce, knowing that Will is the only liberal in the student body. Will also begins a secret relationship with Annie Kate Gervais, a girl from an upper class Charlestonian family who has become pregnant from a boy who refused to marry her, though their relationship is doomed because Will is Irish-American and Catholic. Will attempts to help a freshman, Poteete, who is struggling with the plebe system, the brutal hazing and abuse experienced by freshmen at the Institute, but he kills himself.
In an extended flashback, Will then describes his own plebe year. Will learns that the only way to survive is to bond closely with the other members of his class against the cadre. Many of Will's classmates quit due to the hazing. However, a recruit named Bobby Bentley, who has a problem with urinating on himself due to the stress of hazing, refuses to quit. Conventional hazing methods fail to break Bentley, causing Will's class to come together, making Will's cadre the subject of ridicule with other upperclassmen. Near the end of the year, Will's freshman class is recognized as cadets, and the hazing ends. Shortly before this, Bobby Bentley is taken off campus and withdraws from the Institute the following day for unknown reasons.
Back in Will's senior year, he 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, denoted by wearing of a class ring), are run out by any means necessary. Will discovers that the Ten are real and are trying to run Pearce out try and keep the Institute all white. Meanwhile, Will and the other seniors are given their Institute rings, and he wins the final basketball game of his career.
Annie Kate's baby is stillborn and she rejects Will, wanting to forget all about the time she spent pregnant. Will looks further into the Ten and reunites with Bobby Bentley, who reveals that he was spirited away to a house, and was threatened and tortured to the point that he agreed to quit. Will, with the help of Mark and Pig, kidnap a member of the Ten and interrogate him on a secluded railroad track until he reveals the location of the house, which is located on General Durrell's property. When Pearce is kidnapped by the Ten, Will goes to the house but is discovered. He is rescued by Mark and Pig, but their identities are now known by the Ten.
Pearce is intimidated into silence, and the Ten attempt to have Mark, Pig and Will thrown out of the school. Pig is caught on an honor code violation due to the Ten and loses the honor court case, despite the help of his roommates. After he is drummed out of school, he throws himself in front of a train, killing himself. The Ten then attempt to get Will and Mark kicked out of school for excess demerits. Just as they are about to be thrown out, Will discovers that Tradd's father was a member of the Ten. He and Mark read his journals and discover the names of all current and former members. They also discover that Tradd is a member of the Ten and had been feeding the Ten information the whole time, and that Tradd is also the father of Annie Kate's baby. Will confronts Tradd and ends their friendship. Will then blackmails the General with the information on the Ten into letting him and Mark graduate, and The Bear is fired for helping them. Will reveals that Mark is killed soon after in Vietnam. Will and Mark graduate from the Institute and wear the ring.
- Will McLean – The protagonist and narrator, who is heavily based on Pat Conroy himself in his college years. Will is independent and sarcastic, and, unlike the rest of his classmates, does not wish to join the military after graduation. However, he is generally well liked due to his fairness and kindness.
- Tradd St. Croix – Will's roommate and friend, from a very rich and respected old Charlestonian family. Will becomes close to him and his parents, Abigail and Commerce St. Croix. Their friendship ends after Will discovers he was a secret member of the Ten.
- Dante "Pig" Pignetti – Will's roommate and friend, and a brawny Italian-American from the North. He is prone to violence and extremely protective of his friends and his fiancée Theresa. He is run out of the Institute by the Ten after they catch him on an honor code violation, causing him to commit suicide.
- Mark Santoro – Will's roommate and friend, a brawny Italian-American from the North who is loyal to Will to the end. He is killed fighting in Vietnam some time after graduation.
- Tom Pearce – The first black student to attend the Institute, who Will is assigned to watch over to make sure he makes it through his plebe year.
- Annie Kate Gervais – A young pregnant woman from an upper class Charlestonian family that has fallen on hard times who Will befriends and later falls in love with. Annie Kate struggles with loneliness due to the fact that she must hide herself to hide her pregnancy after her baby's father refused to marry her. Annie Kate ends her relationship with Will after her baby is stillborn. She moves to California to attend college and asks Will to not to contact her, but not before confirming to Will that Tradd was the child's father.
- General Durrell – A famous World War II general and president of the Institute.
- Bobby Bentley – A fellow student who, in Will's freshman year, is targeted by upperclassmen due to his wetting himself. His perseverance over the brutal hazing he experiences inspires Will's class to come together, but he is ultimately driven out by the Ten.
- Colonel "The Bear" Berrineau – The Commandant of the cadets, who is in charge of maintaining discipline and helping students at the Institute. The character was based on Lieutenant Colonel Thomas "The Boo" Courvoisie, an iconic former Assistant Commandant at The Citadel who was the subject of Conroy's first novel.
- John "Bobby" Poteete – A freshman who Will tries to help when he struggles under the brutal hazing in the Institute. His suicide after being kidnapped and tortured by the Ten drives Will into a depression.
The novel received generally positive reviews.
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 "The 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 novel, 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.
- In the novel, McLean was assigned the duty of protecting Pearce because of McLean's perceived liberalism. In the film, McLean was assigned the duty to repay The Bear for protecting him during his own plebe year.
- After his "walk of shame", Pignetti commits suicide by walking into the path of a speeding train. In the film, he simply gets into a taxicab called for him and is never seen again. The film states that as part of deal with Durrell, Pignetti was to be reinstated at the Institute's next year to earn his incomplete credits.
- Tradd's motivation for joining The Ten is not as well explained in the film, and the novel's entire "Honey Prince" subplot of Tradd's effeminate nature is never depicted, apart from a brief aside by Tradd's father Commerce in the opening. In the film, Tradd admits it was his father also being a member, ensuring him legacy status, and was enthralled with membership in The Ten being the Institute's highest honor, but expresses some remorse over The Ten's activities.
- The entire plotline concerning McLean and Annie Kate Gervais, the mother of his roommate Tradd St Croix's illegitimate—and ultimately stillborn—child, is not in the film.
- In the film, Pearce apologizes for turning his back on McLean, explaining that he did it because of survival, and if he did not make it, "the next nigger has my record around his neck like a rock". In the novel, McLean has no further contact with Pearce after that.
- Maslin, Janet (February 18, 1983). "The Lords of Discipline (1983) RODDAM'S 'LORDS OF DISCIPLINE'". The New York Times.
- Feldman, Lucy (2016-10-13). "WSJ Book Club: Nicholas Sparks Chooses Pat Conroy's 'The Lords of Discipline'". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2019-03-14.
- Treadwell, David (1986-12-26). "Outrage Refuses to Die Down in Scandal Over Hazing of Black Cadet at Citadel". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2019-03-06.
- Pat, Conroy (1980). The Lords of Discipline. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0395294628. OCLC 6421594.
- McGrath, Charles (2009-03-02). "Time Heals Rift as Citadel Lets Conroy Back in the Fold". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-03-06.
- "The Lords of Discipline | Kirkus Reviews". Kirkus Reviews. 6 October 1980.