The History Boys Alan Bennett Analysis

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Theory Versus Practice In Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, a group of high school boys preparing for college examinations find themselves caught between the differing teaching styles and philosophies of two of their teachers, Hector and Irwin. The boys are incredibly fond of Hector, and have taken to heart his philosophy on literature. However, the school’s headmaster Felix finds Hector’s lessons too unstructured and hires Irwin in order to increase the boys’ chances of gaining admission into Oxford and Cambridge. While Hector encourages the boys to treasure literature and use it to enrich their lives, Irwin pushes them to think of how literature may be used as a means of succeeding on their entrance exams. Due to this dramatic difference…show more content…
Irwin’s ideas, on the other hand, are goal-oriented and therefore well suited for helping the boys. After a discussion about the potential use of the Holocaust as an exam essay topic, it becomes especially apparent that Hector’s expressive, emotional attitude towards history directly conflicts with Irwin’s pragmatic view. Hector describes the boys as “parrots,” and compares the automacy of their discussion to a “Speak Your Weight Machine” (75). His association of the boys with parrots and a machine underscores how he considers their academic discussion of a sensitive event as inhuman. Bennett furthers the idea that Hector serves as a source of morality when Hector disappointedly states, “I thought I was lining their minds with some sort of literary insulation, as the word “insulation” invokes a sense of protection and perhaps even paternalistic benevolence…show more content…
Shortly after speaking with Irwin, Felix interrupts one of Hector’s lessons and asks Hector if he is aware of the boys’ candidacy as Oxford and Cambridge students. Hector’s clueless reply, “Are they? Are you sure?” paints him as absent minded and insufficiently attuned to the boys’ situation (16). In contrast, Irwin’s acceptance that examination are a “fact of life” and blunt acknowledgement that the boys’ initial essays are “dull” and need work make it clear that he is better equipped to help them reach the goal at hand (48, 19). As shown in the Holocaust discussion scene, after which Irwin states that he believes the boys are “getting the idea” about how to approach the exam, the boys do eventually absorb Irwin’s teachings (75). Therefore, when the boys all succeed in gaining places at Oxford and Cambridge, it seems that Irwin’s teachings were in fact more useful than Hector’s. Even Posner, who is especially loyal to Hector, “play[s] down” a question about the Holocaust on the exam and is praised for his “sense of detachment” during an interview (96). This detachment reflects Irwin’s earlier suggestion that the boys “distance themselves” from history, and further confirms that Irwin’s strategies were in fact successful

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