The Lords of Discipline, by Pat Conroy, is a novel that focuses on Will McClean, a young, nervous teenager entering his first year at the South Carolina Military Institute (a fictional military college based on the Citadel) in Charleston, South Carolina. Soon after he arrives, the dreaded life of the plebe begins; however, Will finds strength and hope in three of his classmates who become his best friends: “Pig” Pignetti, Mark Santoro, and Tradd St. Croix. Pig and Mark are big, strong guys from the North, and Tradd is from a very wealthy, “old Charleston” family with history at the school. The book follows Will in his journey to learn what it means to become a man and he faces many grueling challenges within the system, but the true villain of the novel is not revealed until the very end. The reader is meant to feel as shocked as Will does as he is forced to step back and re-evaluate all that has happened to him in the past four years. Even though it is not how you read the novel, I will explain the plot as it relates to the true villain of the story, Tradd St. Croix.
At the Institute, there is an exclusive secret society named The Ten. The alumni of The Ten are some of the most powerful at the Institute, and men in the military. One of their purposes, which increases their need for secrecy, is running out the plebes who they consider unacceptable to wear the Ring, which students receives upon graduation. The Ten will resort to unfair, and even violent action to eliminate weak plebes. Tradd’s father attended the Institute, and is a member of The Ten. Tradd, despite his small stature and unintimidating nature, is bound to be inducted into the society. He is, yet he does not tell his friends. For most of the novel, Will tries to do the right thing, and often he comes into indirect contact with The Ten. The novel is set during the 1960s, and as an upperclassman, Will is asked by one of the officers to serve as a mentor to the first black cadet to enter the school. Will agrees and takes his role very seriously. Of course, a black student is just the type of abnormality that the Ten try to run off campus. Once Will is personally involved in the situation, he begins to learn a lot about the Ten and who is involved that both scares and empowers him. Since Will is linked to the black student, Pierce, he also becomes a target of The Ten. While all of this is going on, Will’s roommate, Tradd, knows how much Will is suffering and struggling. While he consoles and attempts to help, he also maintains his allegiance to The Ten.
This is simply one example of how the Tradd/Will conflict increases as Tradd continues to hide his secret. At the end of the novel, Will is able to put the pieces together, but he realizes that his best friend, someone he had trusted, had been a contributing factor to the great challenges Will faced while at the Institute. Their friendship is forever destroyed. Maybe Tradd had little choice in whether her became part of The Ten or not, but he continually lied to, deceived, and sold out his best friend, a villainous choice that resulted in death, ridicule, violence and anger.