A Critical Study of The History Boys. My personal response to The History Boys by Alan Bennet has been greatly affected by the way in which characters interact with each other.

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Faisal Syed

Yr 11 English Adv Ms Boyages

Your class has been exploring the question, ‘What will continue to make The History Boys worthy of critical study?’ Your personal response has been challenged by another student.

Defend your response through a critical evaluation of The History Boys analysing the construction, content and language of the text.

My personal response to The History Boys by Alan Bennet has been greatly affected by the way in which characters interact with each other. The interrelations of the boys within their cohort as well as with their teachers gives meaning to the play. Through these relationships, the play questions the value of education, literature and the meaning of history. The open conclusions reached by the play highlights the subjectivity of the audience and hence makes it worthy of critical study as it draws upon multiple levels of meaning from the characters themselves and the reader.

Bennet questions the value of education throughout the play. He provides us with three conflicting and mutually benefiting pedagogies: Hector, Mrs Lintott and Irwin. Hector promotes learning for the sake of knowledge and life, Mrs Lintott teaches the facts while Irwin appears to be more modernistic in approach through his exam orientated methods. Although it becomes clear that all three are required for ‘success’, Hector questions the validity and authenticity of our achievements by questioning one’s view on education through the rhetorical, “And what happens after the exam? Life goes on.” This suggests that although the current education system may be for now, as in the eyes of Irwin, a love of knowledge is more then fulfilling and can be used late in life. As both Irwin’s and Hector’s views appear oppositely polar, Mrs Lintott’s view appears to be more mainstream; a solid foundation, be it for exams or for life. Hector’s views may appear unorthodox, but it is through this character that Bennet highlights the different views of education, “I count examinations … as the enemy of education. Which is not to say that I don’t regard education as the enemy of education too.” The apparent paradox of Hector suggests he does not approve of a Thatcheristic approach to education as just results and exams, but he wishes for knowledge to impinge and assist in one’s life, and to continue learning for the sake of one’s betterment. Hence the characterisation of the teachers as symbolic of their teaching style highlights their approach to life and how they teach it. Another view about education is expressed by the Headmaster and related to one of the main themes of the play, a sense of elitism that exists in the school system. This can be seen through the Headmaster’s rhetoric in, “Well taught, indubitably. But a little… ordinaire?” which reflects his scepticism. The Headmaster believes that the boys, who are working class background, though smart, are too dull and not well bred enough for an Oxbridge education. Bennet challenges this perception through the results of the boys, more specifically via Rudge and his familial connections. As the text provides three views, it provides multiple meanings with respect to the value of education. Hence The History Boys is worthy of critical study as what is suggests about education and its value is open and dependant on one’s experiences and view on life.

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The value of literature is heavily explored throughout The History Boys. As a bricolage, the play draws meaning from a variety of sources. Hector uses these sources to promote a holistic learning for the boys and hence this shapes meaning. Just as the school is a learning ground for the boys, it is just as much a learning experience for the reader. This is evident in the French scene where the meanings of the actions in the scene are lost in translation. This suggests that learning and literature go hand in hand to an extent, and both are required ...

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