Although I do not usually find that I enjoy mandatory summer reading books, today is the day where I declare The Lords of Discipline to be the best high school summer reading book!
The Lords of Discipline is written from the perspective of Will McClean, a senior cadet and an aspiring novelist at the South Carolina Military Institute, nicknamed “the Institute”. At the Institute, there is a system where all the “plebes” or freshmen are completely broken down psychologically, physically, emotionally and morally and rebuilt into “complete men” by their senior year. The novel follows the story of Will and his three roommates, Pig, Mark and Tradd, their rise to adulthood and their days of violence, heartbreak, brotherhood, and betrayal at the Institute.
McClean’s transition to manhood is flooded with twists and turns when he becomes involved in a romantic affair with a whimsical girl, Annie Kate. Moreover, when Will is assigned to assist the institute’s first black student, Tom Pearce, in surviving his plebe year, Will learns of The Ten, a corrupt Institute secret organization that ensures certain cadets, deemed unacceptable to be a graduate of the Institute, are run out of the Institute by any means necessary. When Will and his roommates become targets of this organization, they must do everything in their power to avoid expulsion from the Institute and even evade death itself.
The first aspect of The Lords of Discipline that I loved was its plot line. Although the story does start out a bit slowly, as soon as the pace picks up, I was unable to put the book down. The book is teeming with suspense and humor with plot twists waiting at the turn of every page. I was kept on my toes throughout every chapter, unsure of what would happen next but constantly curious to find out. Through the book, Conroy examines the beauty of the old South while illustrating the brutality of racism and class hierarchy.
Another aspect of the novel I loved was the characters. It is rare for a novel to fully develop all its characters, but The Lords of Discipline succeeds in bringing the majority of its characters to life. Conroy gives each character a layer of depth, so there is much more to all of them than it may appear at first. I felt as if I could encounter these characters in the real world, as Conroy makes them down-to-earth by giving them each their individual strengths and flaws.
Will is a very forthright narrator in the sense that he reveals all his sentiments and inner turmoil to the audience: he doesn’t trust himself at all and always questions himself harshly. Because of his honesty, kindness, and vulnerability, Will has us readers on his side, and we trust him from the start. I became closely attached to Will and his three roommates because they were depicted as such genuine people, and I felt as if I shared in their struggles, their emotions and their beautiful brotherly bond.
While you may flinch at the violence that is tolerated at the Institute as well as the foul language in the book, both of these significantly contribute to our understanding of what it means to be an “Institute Man” and the internal struggle Will has with becoming such a man. Overall, The Lords of Discipline is an insightful, heartbreaking, and inspiring ode to friendship, love and humanity. Although the book does not necessarily have a “happily ever after” ending, it is the realness of its characters, setting and storyline that makes the novel shine.