How does the opening of Alan Bennetts The History Boys introduce the audience to the themes and concerns of the play?

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How does the opening of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys introduce the audience to the themes and concerns of the play?

The opening of The History Boys introduces the theme of Hector and Irwin’s opposing educational philosophies, displaying to the audience a theme that is pivotal in determining many of he events that arise later in the play. The character’s educational philosophies are also represented as the tragic hero and the anti-hero. Hector’s want for his students to be enriched by education and mature into well-rounded human beings becomes his downfall as the tragic hero. Irwin becomes the anti-hero and antagonist for Hector’s love of education by teaching the boys to cheat their way, ultimately to top qualifications. This disruption within the balance of education sets way for the boys to decide whether they will become ‘thoughtful or smart’ adults.

The play begins with a prolepsis showing Irwin in a wheelchair, in his forties, where he describes to MPs his idea for the abolishment of the regular justice system to undertake one that resembles punishment in schools. This introduction to the plot runs parallel to Bennett’s introduction of Irwin’s educational philosophy. The association of education within politics reflects Irwin’s meretricious way of teaching. He is represented in the scene to be spin doctor for a group of MPs in the 2000s, where his job is associated with using facts and arguments that would satisfy the public, rather than display an entirely truthful aspect of government. By saying ‘Paradox works well and mists up the windows’ Irwin is conveying that he believes that using paradox to deceive people ‘works well’ reinstating his position as the anti-hero; having concerns that do not consider other people involved. By using the language such as ‘mists up the windows’ Irwin is masking his true meaning, using a metaphor instead and reflecting his false and showy nature. This relates to his educational philosophy, which Irwin even directly displays in the scene by saying: ‘School. That’s all it is. In my case anyway. Back to school.’ showing that he perceives their to be a relationship with being a spin doctor and being a teacher. He puts a spin what is being taught and the style of essays, in order to impress Oxbridge dons, as opposed to determining the truth, and a loyalty to the system as opposed to his students.

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Irwin also uses both formal and colloquial language in this beginning scene, starting with saying - ‘This is a tricky one.’ adorning a sarcastic and casual attitude in concern with the seriousness of the subject he is about to address. The use of the word ‘tricky’ has connotations of deceit, reflecting Irwin’s educational philosophy. It is also quite colloquial in connection with political and formal language. This suggests that Irwin’s formal register is false, and a mask for his own insecurity concerning his dull personality. Later in the play Dakin notices the contrast between Irwin as a teaching figure with ...

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