The History Boys

The History Boys Summary and Analysis of Act Two: Scenes 9 – 12

Summary of Act Two, Scenes 9 – 12:

[Act Two: Scene 9 (pg.87), Scene 10 (pg. 91), Scene 11 (pg. 92), Scene 12 (pg. 96)]

Dakin and Irwin are alone in the classroom after Mrs. Lintott and the other students leave. Dakin asks Irwin about his own education, and Irwin says that he attended the Corpus Christi College at Cambridge. Dakin asks Irwin if getting into Oxford or Cambridge will make him happy. Irwin answers by saying that he believes Dakin will be happy regardless of where he ends up.

Dakin arrogantly reveals that he knows about Posner’s crush on him and dismisses it as "a phase." Then, Dakin flirts with Irwin using the metaphor of Hitler approaching Poland, but Irwin does not take the bait. However, Dakin does impress Irwin with his practice essays on the events leading up to World War II.

In the following scene, all of the boys are lining up for their class photo. Posner complains about having to squat in the front more until Mrs. Lintott reassigns his seat. The Headmaster has Hector take the photo so that Hector will not be in it. Mrs. Lintott protests, but the Headmaster remains firm with his decision. Hector obediently stays behind the camera.

The next scene begins with Mrs. Lintott talking to Irwin about their upcoming individual meetings with the Headmaster. She tells Irwin that she is leaving at the end of the next year, which means that the Headmaster will probably offer Irwin a full-time position. They then address the gossip around school about Hector’s impending departure. Mrs. Lintott suspects that Hector’s wife has known about her husband's sexual proclivities all along. Moments later, Hector and the Headmaster exit the Headmaster’s office and it is Mrs. Lintott's turn to follow the Headmaster back inside. Hector tells Irwin that he has received his pink slip, but Irwin already knows.

Irwin and Hector proceed to discuss Hector’s future plans. Hector says that it is his dream to ride around the country in a book van. Hector then laments the fact that he has remained in the teaching profession for so long. He warns Irwin against staying in academia, and Irwin responds by saying that he doesn't intend to.

Mrs. Lintott reappears and Hector asks her if she knows why he is leaving. She says that everyone knows – especially the boys as they experienced his molestation firsthand. Hector tries wearily to defend his actions, but he fails to convince Mrs. Lintott. She then surprises Hector with the news that the Headmaster is planning on asking Hector to take Mrs. Lintott's place after Mrs. Lintott departs. The scene ends with the Headmaster taking Irwin into his study.

The following scene starts with several overlapping asides. Scripps describes going to Eucharist in the college chapel before taking his entrance exam. Dakin is arrogant as usual and shares that his examiner had a Lord of the Rings poster in his office. Posner says that he answered a question on the Holocaust just as Irwin trained him, and the examiners praised his "sense of detachment" (96). Then, the boys come bursting onto the stage. We learn that all of them, including Rudge, have earned places at Oxbridge.

Analysis of Act Two, Scenes 9 – 12:

In this segment of the play, the major dramatic question is answered. The results of the examinations are in and all of the boys have gotten into Oxbridge, even Rudge. This is the culmination of all of Irwin, Mrs. Lintott, and the Headmaster’s work and the community appropriately finishes the term on a high note. However, the fact that this culmination occurs at this point instead of at the very end leads the audience to wonder, "now what?"

Dakin becomes more aggressive towards Irwin. He uses the World War II metaphor of Hitler invading Poland to flirt with his instructor, which mirrors Dakin's employment of a World War I metaphor to describe his struggle to have sex with Fiona. Unlike Fiona, however, Irwin is not so easily conquered. Dakin's concept of intimacy is based on winning and losing; he believes that in a sexual encounter, one partner must concede to the other. Throughout the play, Dakin has been the most confident of the boys. He is used to getting what he wants and is correspondingly open about the objects of his desire. Bennett clarifies the power dynamic between Dakin and Irwin in his stage directions for their scene. He writes, “This is quite a pausey conversation, with Dakin more master than pupil” (88).

Meanwhile, Irwin has started to see that in teaching the boys to be detached in their assessments of history, Dakin, for one, has become flippant in other parts of his life. He has mastered Irwin's techniques for acing the entrance examination. When Irwin heaps praise on him, Dakin comments, "It's a good game," to which Irwin responds, "It's more than a game. Thinking about what might have happened alerts you to thinking about the consequences of what did" (90). Hector later comments to himself that even though these boys might be "Oxbridge material" they are also "magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life" (92).

Both Irwin and Hector's comments serve as foreshadowing; these are warnings about the challenges the boys will face as a result of focusing more on exam preparation than on tools to survive their future as adults. Mrs. Lintott uses the controversy around Hector's scandalous departure as a specific example of this phenomenon. While the Headmaster has been content to sweep the "incident" under the rug, Mrs. Lintott wishes she could spend an entire lesson "dissecting" said incident, which she believes "would teach the boys more about history and the utter randomness of things than... well, than I've managed to do so far" (93). She also criticizes Oxford, saying that the school is only impressed by alumni who make lots of money, not by those who present new ideas.

In this way, Mrs. Lintott serves as the moral voice of the play and yet, the tragedy is that nobody seems to listen to her. She is fully aware of her place and articulates it quite clearly earlier in Act 2 when she says, "History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket" (85). She presents her cynical view of Oxford and Cambridge in contrast to Irwin's idealism; she calls Hector's attempts to justify his crimes as "colossal balls" (95). Her departure, however, shows that there is no respect for her brand of unfiltered truth in this world.