Pat Conroy's very personal 1980 novel about love, friendship, betrayal, and corruption in the microcosm of a southern military school in South Carolina.
The main character, Irish Senior Private Will McLean seems to be a perfect vehicle for Conroy's narrative as the character's world-view is so close to his own. Will's strange ambivalence about the South and his alma mater waxes and wanes throughout the novel, as his life and the lives of those around him change. He begins to discover the deep elitism and a secret society known as 'The Ten,' whose sworn duty is to keep the school (mainly racially) "pure." Will is torn between the love of his school and its growing distance from his own conscience.
The key word in Lords of Discipline is ambivalence. As much as the reader is disgusted by the brutal hazing of the Freshman, some intense pride in both the characters and the reader rises out of the discipline and stoicism of the few who survive. Pride and nausea, love and hate, conscience and duty-- Conroy never cops out. His story, like life, lives between the cracks and in the gray areas. Will, throughout the book, finds both the joy of love and the pain of eventual loss as the novel progresses towards a bittersweet ending, full of twists and turns.
Pat Conroy uses all his narrative skill in describing a Southern Military school not unlike his own (he went to the Citadel), and is comfortable leaving loose ends and unanswered questions. It is for precisely this reason that I highly recommend the book, and cannot recommend the film adaptation. The film takes and easy out and the view gets the sense that the director and screenwriter were afraid to take on the ambiguities and complexities that Conroy freely confronts the reader with int he novel.