The History Boys

The History Boys Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What do each of the three teachers (Irwin, Lintott, and Hector) say about Bennett's view on education in England?

    Mrs. Lintott imparts fact-based historical education. Hector, meanwhile, teaches from his heart. His lessons are scattered but passionate; he believes that memorizing long passages of great literature develops the boys' minds in a way that will help them to face the adult world after graduating. Hector wants to teach the boys subject matter that will resonate with them long after school ends. Meanwhile, Irwin essentially teaches the boys journalistic skills. He wants them to come up with fresh and unexpected perspectives on established facts - he believes that the key to getting into Oxbridge is to entertain the examiners. For Irwin and the Headmaster, education is merely a means to an end - getting into a good university.

  2. 2

    In the play, how does Bennett critique the private education system?

    Through the characters of Irwin and Mrs. Lintott, Bennett introduces the idea that the existence of private schools exacerbates social inequality. Though Irwin does his best to prepare the boys for their examinations, he warns them that their competition will perform better, as students from private schools have been coached for years on how to impress the Oxbridge entrance boards. Bennett reinforces this idea in several points throughout the play, like when the Headmaster calls attention to the boys’ lack of "polish."

  3. 3

    How is the role of women in society discussed or represented in the play?

    Mrs. Lintott and Fiona are the two female characters in the play and they both occupy subordinate roles to men. We never actually see Fiona and only hear about her through Dakin. Dakin, meanwhile, speaks about Fiona as a conquest, the prize in a war he is trying to win. He later uses information she has told him in confidence to blackmail the Headmaster. Meanwhile, Mrs. Lintott is all too aware that being a woman diminishes her power. Even though she is the most straightforward of all the teachers, nobody actually listens to her. Finally, she delivers a monologue in which she describes history as a tale of incompetent men and the women who clean up after them. The boys react with stunned silence.

  4. 4

    How is history a focal point of the play?

    In many ways, the play highlights the responsibility of historians to treat historical events with a degree of reverence. We can see this in the different approaches Hector and Irwin take in teaching the Holocaust. Irwin looks at this massive human tragedy from a detached perspective, trying to teach the boys that they need to come up with a different way to speak about this oft-discussed event. Meanwhile, Hector urges the boys to consider the Holocaust outside of the academic context; by attempting to dissect and understand the motivations of its perpetrators, they are demeaning the suffering of the millions of people that died. Hector's point is validated after Posner's Jewish parents write the school a letter of complaint. Meanwhile, Mrs. Lintott and Rudge take a much less glamorous approach to history by viewing past events as objectively as possible instead of trying to give them "spin." Furthermore, the fact that the play itself is written in the past tense with asides from an older Scripps scattered throughout further draws attention to the ways in which history inevitably repeats itself.

  5. 5

    In what ways are Hector and Irwin an antithetical pair?

    Though they are similar in some respects, Bennett presents Hector and Irwin as an antithetical pair in that their beliefs and actions are consistently on opposite ends of the spectrum. In terms of education, Hector’s methods fail to produce quantifiable results while Irwin’s methods are results-driven. As a man in his sixties, Hector represents the older generation while Irwin, in his twenties, represents youth and vitality. The two are even at odds with each other in the way they address sexual desire; Hector is willing to act on his impulses, while Irwin is more reluctant to follow his heart.

  6. 6

    How do Hector and Irwin views on the practicality of poetry differ?

    For Hector, poetry and literature are a part of his mission to prepare the boys for life. He believes that the effects of memorizing poetry will continue to benefit them long after they have left school. He thinks that literature should be revered and celebrated, not simply trotted out to order to perform well on examinations. By contrast, Irwin only sees poetry through the lens of how it will help the boys do well on their exams. In fact, after arriving at the school, Irwin realizes that the knowledge Hector has imparted is an untapped resource that the boys can draw upon to perform well on their exams. Hector's response to Irwin's assessment is to keep his classroom door locked.

  7. 7

    In what ways is The History Boys about unrealized dreams and defeated expectations?

    Bennett presents this idea in three ways in the play. First, Mrs. Lintott shares her life’s disappointments in her monologue in which she emphasizes the lack of respect she gets from her male colleagues despite her pedigree. Hector’s disappointments come in the form of his disillusionment towards his career choices once he realizes that there is no place in the world for his brand of teaching anymore. He explains this to Irwin as he warns Irwin not to get trapped in the teaching profession. Posner also suffers from disappointment. He is the most sensitive of the boys and is filled with yearning. Eventually, he is unable to hack it at Cambridge - he drops out and becomes a recluse, obsessing over the achievements of his former sixth-form peers.

  8. 8

    Where is comedy present in the play and how does Bennett use it?

    Most of Hector's lessons have a comedic element. From the poems that the boys recite to the scenes they act out, Hector uses comedy as a teaching tool so that his lessons are more enjoyable. He cares that the boys absorb what he is teaching them. Bennett also uses comedy to frame Hector's molestation of the boys. Bennett once said in an interview, " I think I've been criticized for not taking [the molestation plot line] seriously enough. I'm afraid I don't take that very seriously if they're 17 or 18, I think they are actually much wiser than Hector. Hector is the child, not them" (Telegraph). Indeed, the boys are very aware of what they're in for once they accept a ride with Hector to the point of laughing about it. Dakin even tells Irwin that "Hector is a joke." By infusing Hector's actions with comedy, the boys reject (whether knowingly or not) the inappropriateness of his actions. Ultimately, though, the joke is on Hector.

  9. 9

    In what ways are Hector and Irwin imbued with pathos?

    Bennett imbues Hector with hypocrisy and a touch of sadness in that Hector uses his eccentric teaching to mask his indiscreet behavior with the boys. Despite all of his grand ideas about life, his own life is rather unimpressive. In the scene in which Hector cries, both the boys (and the audience) are meant to pity Hector, or even to sympathize with him. Irwin has a similarly pitiable life. Single and living on the outskirts of town, Irwin lives a life of repression and half-truths.

  10. 10

    How does Irwin represent secrets and lies?

    Irwin surrounds himself with lies and half-truths. First, he lies to the boys about where he went to college. Next, his teaching style is about finding a way to answer questions with lies. Finally, he lies about his sexual orientation in his conversation with Mrs. Lintott, while attempting to conceal his affection for Dakin.