The History Boys

The History Boys Summary and Analysis of Act Two: Scenes 13 – 16

Summary of Act Two, Scenes 13 – 16:

[Act Two: Scene 13 (pg. 98), Scene 14 (pg. 102), Scene 15 (pg. 105), Scene 16 (pg. 106)]

Dakin has a private conversation in which he confronts Irwin about his claim to have attended Corpus Christi College. Dakin says that he looked Irwin up in the alumni directory while he was at Cambridge for his exam, but Irwin was not listed. Irwin is forced to admit that he attended Bristol and only went to Oxbridge for his teaching diploma. Dakin does not mind - instead, he criticizes Irwin's inability to lie "properly" (99).

Dakin then propositions Irwin, first by inviting Irwin to “go for a drink,” a phrase that Irwin correctly identifies as a euphemism for a sexual encounter. Dakin refuses to skirt the topic and directly asks Irwin for oral sex. Irwin seems unclear about how to respond; Dakin thinks Irwin is afraid of being just like Hector. In response, Dakin tells Irwin that he's nothing like Hector and that Hector is a joke. Irwin does not agree with this assessment, but finally concedes to having "a drink" with Dakin.

In the next scene, Dakin tells all the boys about his planned encounter with Irwin. Dakin also reveals that he had a meeting with the Headmaster and asked him "what the difference [is] between Hector touching [them] up on the bike and [the Headmaster] trying to feel up Fiona" (102). Dakin has therefore blackmailed the Headmaster into allowing Hector to stay. Dakin is high on his victory and hugs Posner in front of all their classmates, calling it "Posner's reward" (103). Then, he puts on his motorcycle helmet for what Posner calls "Hector's reward" (103).

Hector comes into the room in a cheerful mood after having just been reprieved. Hector and the boys play their guessing game and, for the first time, Hector loses because he cannot identify a Pet Shop Boys song. Moments later, Irwin and the Headmaster walk in. The Headmaster is horrified to see Dakin wearing Hector’s motorcycle helmet, as it violates his agreement with Hector. The Headmaster then suggests that Hector take Irwin on his bike instead, and Irwin agrees.

Scene Fifteen starts with an aside in which Scripps recounts the motorcycle accident that occurred after Irwin got on the back of Hector's bike. Neither Scripps nor Irwin (who is now in a wheelchair) can recall exactly what happened, but Scripps offers a few possible theories. Irwin adds that he and Dakin never had their "drink," and then Scripps reveals that Hector died in the crash.

The final scene of The History Boys takes place at Hector's funeral. The Headmaster and the boys eulogize the fallen teacher, speaking about his love of literature. Mrs. Lintott then reveals the fate of each of Hector's students, almost all of whom become successful professionals. Crowther and Lockwood are magistrates, Akthar is a headmaster, Timms owns a chain of dry-cleaners, Dakin is a corrupt tax lawyer who works in the Gulf States, and Rudge builds homes that are affordable for first-time buyers. Meanwhile, the only student who truly "took [all of Hector's teachings] to heart" is Posner, who lives alone and suffers from jealousy of his successful classmates.

Analysis of Act Two, Scenes 13 – 16:

In this final tragic section of the play, the truth comes out. Dakin learns that Irwin never really attended Corpus Christi College. He then propositions Irwin and goads him into accepting. Dakin clearly likes to be in control and uses his desirability to get what he wants. He manipulates Irwin and mocks Posner's crush on him by hugging him publicly. He even uses his knowledge about the Headmaster sexually harassing Fiona to rescue Hector's job. Just as Irwin pointed out in the previous scene, though, this is all a "game" to Dakin, who has the ability to detach himself emotionally from the world around him. He says, "I hadn't realized how easy it is to make things happen. You know?" (103). Dakin may feel powerful and in control, but his manipulative actions have consequences. He admits that the reason he never had his date with Irwin was because he no longer felt sexually attracted to the man after he was in a wheelchair. This is after Irwin may have saved Dakin's life by taking his place on the back of Hector's bike. Alan Bennett has said that there is a little bit of him in all the boys except for Dakin, whose unlimited confidence has made him selfish and callous.

In his last scene, Hector fails to recognize one of the songs in the guessing game. This is the first time he has lost. He is clearly out of touch with the boys at this point, and his lapse here makes it clear that Hector's teachings are no longer useful to them - and yet, Hector doesn't seem to care. He gleefully pronounces that he is "illiterate" when it comes to pop music. This shows that Hector does not want to change. He never takes responsibility for his misconduct, even when Mrs. Lintott tries to force him to see the truth. It seems as though Hector is content to continue his behavior as long as he is not punished for it. In fact, when the Headmaster comes in and sees Dakin in a motorcycle helmet, Bennett's stage directions say, "Hector, whose fault it isn't, shrugs" (105).

Ultimately, Hector is a tragic figure. His goal as a teacher has been only to pass on knowledge to his students. Even his pedophilia, though disturbing, "evokes both the eros of learning and the pathetic reality of [Hector]" (Cohen). Hector's death at the end of the play supports Bennett's overall cynical view of the state of education; both Hector and his brand of teaching are lost in this new results-driven academic environment. Bennett alleges that nobody cares about learning for learning's sake anymore - just as none of the students or teachers truly appreciate Hector's methods until after he is dead. As Irwin says at the end of the play, "He was a good man but I do not think there is time for his kind of teaching anymore." Only Scripps pipes up in Hector's defense, saying, "Love apart, it is the only education worth having" (109).

It is significant that Mrs. Lintott, the purveyor of truth throughout the play, takes over narrating from Scripps at the very end of the play. In stating what each boy eventually becomes, she offers a cynical view of society. She describes magistrates and headmasters as "pillars of a community that no longer has much use for pillars" (107). In saying this, Mrs. Lintott laments that money, not knowledge, determines a man's place in society. Meanwhile, Timms owns a chain of dry cleaners and "takes drugs at the weekend," Dakin "is a tax lawyer... telling highly paid fibs and making frequent trips to the Gulf States" (107). Both Timms and Dakin are proud of their achievements, which proves that even though the community is pillarless, it does respect wealth.

In addition to Mrs. Lintott, Rudge also emerges as a character who can see things for what they truly are. Unlike most of his peers, he comes from a working-class environment. He endures teasing throughout the play and even the teachers have very low expectations for him. However, Rudge happens to get into Oxford mostly because the school is looking to diversify its student body with a boy who comes from a working-class background. He also happens to be an asset to their rugby team. However, Rudge has no fantasies about being special - he does not think he is entitled to greatness. "History is one fucking thing after another," he says bluntly after Hector's death (106). Then, when Mrs. Lintott is praising the other boys' achievements, she tries to elevate what Rudge does for a living by saying that he is a "builder who carpets the Dales in handy homes." Rudge is the only one of the boys to contradict Mrs. Lintott here, by truthfully stating that "Rudge Homes are at least affordable homes for first-time buyers" (107). He is not ashamed of who he is or what he does, which is likely why the Oxford examiners found him so refreshing. He is not trying to manipulate his point of view to reflect what others want to hear.