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Character Analysis of The History Boys

Staff

Hector

Hector, an eccentric, motorcycle-riding teacher with a love for literature, believes that education should be pursued for its intrinsic value, not merely to pass exams. He uses a wide range of materials in his lessons, ranging from classic works of literature to popular films from the 1940s and 1950s. Also, he believes that the boys should get a wider perspective on the world than a narrow school curriculum could offer.

Although the boys have great affection for him, they see him as something of a laughingstock. This is because of his sexual urges towards them, which he acts upon during rides on his motorcycle.

After he dies, the boys try – without fully succeeding – to explain the value of Hector as a teacher. Akthar says, “There was a contact between him and his class. Quite what the contract was or what was involved would be hard to say. But it was there.” Crowther acknowledges the “unforgivable things” that he did to them, but does say that he “led them to expect the best.”

Irwin

Irwin is a stark contrast to Hector in that he is young and embraces more modern teaching methods that are geared towards passing exams. Hector teasingly labels Irwin a “journalist” because he encourages the boys to offer provocative opinions, even on serious topics like the Holocaust.

As Irwin’s relationship with Dakin grows inappropriately intimate, Hector warns him, “Don’t touch him. He’ll think you’re a fool. That’s what they think about me.” However, Irwin doesn’t listen to this warning and arranges to meet with Dakin to pursue a sexual relationship. He is saved from committing this disgraceful act by the motorcycle crash, which leaves him in a wheelchair, making Dakin no longer attracted to him.

Scripps speculates that the crash happened because Irwin, not used to riding a motorcycle, leaned the wrong way during a turn. He remarks, “Of course, Irwin would lean differently from everyone else.” Later in life, Irwin’s tendency to go against the grain helps him succeed as a journalist, historian, and eventually, a political spin doctor.

Mrs Lintott

Mrs Lintott is a history teacher nearing retirement. She is disheartened by many things she observes, especially the Headmaster’s fixation on exam scores and Hector’s improper behaviour with the students.

In an all-boys school, she is an important female voice. She complains about the way that the other characters confide in her, which she thinks only happens because she is a woman, and therefore finds it patronising. She also attempts to get the boys to consider the role of women in history, and the power structures that excluded them from positions of power. Unfortunately, this doesn’t spark their interest.

Headmaster

The Headmaster is ambitious to have many students successfully apply to Oxbridge. However, his main goal is to elevate the school’s position in the league tables rather than truly caring about the boys’ futures. He wants education that is “quantifiable” rather than the more unfocused teaching that Hector does.

The Headmaster rightly dismisses Hector, but this again is self-serving. He uses Hector’s inappropriate relationships with the boys as an excuse to get rid of a teacher who doesn’t follow his methods. It is revealed that he has made unwanted sexual advances towards his secretary, Fiona. The Headmaster’s own wrongdoing comes back to haunt him, making him lose the leverage he had over Hector.

Boys

Dakin

Dakin is the most confident of the boys and is always noticeable in any classroom discussion. Hector often hits him, leaving him “black and blue.” The boys interpret this as a sign of Hector’s particular fondness for him. Dakin has a complex relationship with Hector. He ridicules him and expresses a dislike for his inappropriate touching, but also continues to take lifts with the teacher in order to please him. Also, he goes to the extent of blackmailing the Headmaster to save Hector’s job.

His relationship with Irwin brings growing tension in the play as it appears that they are heading towards a sexual relationship. This seems even more likely to happen after the scene five years in the future when Posner insinuates that the two did have sex. However, he no longer desires Irwin once he is in a wheelchair, showing a shallowness to his desire.

Posner

Bright, Jewish and homosexual, Posner is hopelessly in love with Dakin. He knows that Irwin also loves the boy as he notices that they are both staring at Dakin simultaneously. At the end of the play, Dakin gives him a hug, but Posner complains that he was “looking for something more . . . lingering.”

He is offended by Irwin encouraging the boys to have sensationalist views on the Holocaust. However, he follows Irwin’s advice to use his Jewish perspective to his benefit and talk in a detached way about the Holocaust in his entrance exam. Despite this, he is the most passionate supporter of Hector’s methods of teaching and these stay with him long into his adulthood. Mrs Lintott even comments that he is the “only one who truly took everything to heart” from Hector’s lessons.

After putting all of his energy into getting into Oxford, Posner then finds he has “nothing left” and cannot cope with life at the university. This causes him to drop out. He lives a hermit life at home, having “periodic breakdowns” and following the progress of his ex-classmates on the internet.

Scripps

Scripps serves as the narrator for various scenes, acting as Bennett’s tool for advancing the plot. He also acts as a confidante for Dakin, allowing the audience to find out about Dakin’s experiences and feelings (particularly his growing attraction for Irwin).

He is a devout Christian and as a result doesn’t want to pursue any pre-marital sexual relationships, which makes him an interesting contrast to Dakin.

Rudge

Rudge, from a working-class background and skilled in sports, is the most insecure about his abilities to get into Oxbridge. He takes a cynical attitude towards too much analysis of history, calling it simply “one . . . thing after another.” In his mock interview, he doesn’t follow Irwin’s advice about taking an original or opposing view. Due to this, his teachers hold little hope for him to succeed.

However, he ends up being offered a place at Oxford due to an unlikely family connection: his father was a college servant there, and the university sees this as a good PR opportunity to show their inclusivity. He also admits that he ended up following Irwin’s contrarian approach to history.

Timms, Akthar, Lockwood and Crowther

These characters are less prominent in the play, and only really serve to join in with the classroom discussions rather than have any real character development. As an example of their contributions, Timms is shown to be cheeky and challenging towards Irwin when he first becomes their teacher. However, Irwin mistakenly blames this on Dakin.

What happens to the boys in the future?

At the end of the play, Mrs Lintott reveals the professions each boy eventually pursues:

StudentProfession
DakinA tax lawyer, “telling highly paid fibs and making frequent trips to the Gulf States.”
PosnerNo profession. He lives a solitary life, “haunts the local library” and has “long since stopped asking himself where it went wrong.”
ScrippsA journalist for a broadsheet newspaper
RudgeSells affordable homes to first-time buyers
TimmsOwns a chain of dry cleaners “and takes drugs at the weekend.”
AktharHeadteacher
LockwoodMagistrate
CrowtherMagistrate

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