The History Boys by Alan Bennett
Notes on Key Themes
Sexual charm is something that can be exploited as a declaration of power and dominance, and a way to build the sense of pride manipulate people. Dakin wants to make love with Fiona on the headmaster’s study floor and he believes that his performance in bed is better than the headmaster. This is a way to consolidate his masculinity and sense of superiority, as if he ‘wins’ the headmaster in a battle. Dakin’s metaphor comparing sex to war adds to the feeling that he is a smart, witty guy who stands out in the group. It also shows that he considers conquering a woman is somewhat like attacking a country. Dakin exploits Irwin’s homosexual interest in him to force him to be honest to his feelings.
As receptors of the two conflicting philosophies, they are pawns in a game in which they have limited control. They struggle to adjust to Irwin’s teaching method when he Irwin takes over Mrs. Lintott. They struggle with the idea of using poetry as ‘gobbets’ to prove a point in their history essays. They are confused about how to start the class and what to do during the class shared by Hector and Irwin. Caught in the current education system, their say is limited (They’re steered to adopt an exam-oriented approach; they can’t be true to themselves at interviews; as elite students, the options for their future path is indeed more narrow than broad – everybody (except Hector) expects them to go to Oxbridge)
Well-aware of how adults play their game in school, sexual scandal can be used as a weapon against someone. - Dakin exposes the headmaster touching up Fiona to save Hector from early retirement.
Posner affirms his unrequited love for Dakin, even if it means a life-long misery. He does not want the ‘phrase’ to pass despite the pain. He wants to get into Cambridge because of Dakin. In making it come true, he is willing to sacrifice his personal sentiments associated with his Jewish origins (he uses a detached approach when writing about the Holocaust in the exam). He is still very interested in things about Dakin after he has grown up. He keeps urging Irwin to share his story with Dakin when he works as Irwin’s assistant for the BBC program.
Lying works! Lying helps you survive in the adult world.
Irwin lies about his credentials. He forges qualifications at Oxford to earn a teaching position while he actually attends Bristol. Irwin’s unorthodox approach of ignoring the truths plays a key role in leading the boys to a prosperous future. They all get into Oxbridge successfully. The boys are told to betray their interests in order to succeed at interviews. For example, one shouldn’t express passion for acting, nor say that Mozart is his favourite musician.
The boys realize that they are drawn in a competition in which circumstances do not go in favour of them. Their wealthier counterparts in private schools are better equipped than them. The wealthier students who have been to Rome will have the competitive edge when it comes to historical events like the Reformation.
Teachers are no sacred figures. They are just ordinary human beings who are also subject to earthly emotions and desires. Hector’s emotional breakdown in class, after he is forced into early retirement due to the groping. Even the ultimate symbol of discipline, the Headmaster, exhibits sexual behavior (on Fiona) which is obviously against morality. Irwin’s inner struggle when Dakin seduces him into a drink (euphemism for a sexual act)
The boys indulge Hector:
Posner offers to take the ride.
Scripps offers to take the ride for ‘god’s sake’.
Dakin offers to take the ride after Hector’s emotional breakdown as a way to show sympathy. No one has the intention to expose or complain about him.
Dakin breaks into the headmaster’s room, exposes his secret (feeling up Fiona), to save Hector.
Why would the boys indulge Hector in the genital massage?
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