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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 848

Hector is a romantic in every sense of the word. Not only does he prize literature, music and art above all things, he refuses to admit they should serve his students in any practical forum. He believes what is most important is that it awakens something in the student as...

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Hector is a romantic in every sense of the word. Not only does he prize literature, music and art above all things, he refuses to admit they should serve his students in any practical forum. He believes what is most important is that it awakens something in the student as an individual. Indeed, he states that one of the wonders of reading is the connection between reader and writer in which the former believes that the latter is speaking only to him. To prevent him from becoming an idealized figure, Bennett imbues him with liberal doses of hypocrisy and pathos. His marriage is viewed with perplexity by both himself and those around him. Lintott refers to his wife as “unexpected,” assuming that she chose Hector as a matter of convenience. Lintott also provides much-needed honesty when Hector tries to use literary flourishes to mask his indiscreet behavior. She frequently points out that his romantic perspective often serves to cover up his failings. In the end, Hector is beloved by his students, but not fully respected.

Irwin defines himself repeatedly in the play as a kind of antithesis to Hector. He refers to Hector’s lessons condescendingly, as if they were more amusement than education. He also fails to see the parallel between his relations with the boys and those of Hector. Despite the airs they adopt, both have a longing need to be liked by the boys. In addition, both behave inappropriately with them and allow the lines between teacher and student to become blurred. Irwin also creates an identity for himself that is based on lies and half-truths. First, he is misleading about where he went to school, perhaps in fear of comparison to the ones the boys will attend. Secondly, he repeatedly lies about his sexuality to both his colleagues and his students. Finally, his whole approach to teaching is a direct assault on the truth. His version of history is about spin, in which facts, quotes and ideas serve to showcase the cleverness of the arguer rather than the soundness of the argument itself.

Lintott serves as the voice of reason in The History Boys. As both Hector and Irwin make mistakes with their students, Lintott forces them to see their actions for what they are: self-serving and ultimately misguided. In addition, she tempers the boys’ cockiness and outré behavior. In one of the most potent seasons in the play, she chastises both students and teachers for their inherently sexist behavior. She acknowledges that as the only woman in this testosterone-heavy environment, she sees history differently: as a series of mistakes that men make, the results of which women must either fix or endure.

Dakin represents everything that makes Hector and Lintott wary: he is smart, creative, and attractive. What makes matters worse is that he is aware of all of these strengths and has developed a smug sense of both entitlement and disregard. Dakin is bored with the world because he gets almost anything that he wants. Posner seems to recognize this and wonders what will become of Dakin after he leaves school because nothing seems to matter to him. Irwin’s approach to education appeals to Dakin’s cynical nature. His attempt to conquer Irwin sexually is a power play. He likes Irwin (if not in a sexual way), but he resents that liking him has made him work so hard to please him. Dakin’s most human moment comes when he uses his knowledge of the Headmaster untoward advances upon his secretary as leverage to get Hector reinstated. Despite being in Irwin’s camp for much of the play, he ultimately chooses Hector at a crucial point in the action.

Posner is the student most in the vein of Hector’s view of the world. Posner struggles with feeling like an outsider. Unlike the majority of the other students, he is Jewish. During the pivotal Holocaust discussion, Posner’s perspective on the war is different from that of Irwin and some of his classmates because the issue is not only historical but also personal. The other major issue Posner confronts over the course of the play is his homosexuality. He harbors a strong crush on Dakin, despite Dakin’s dismissive nature toward him. Bennett hints that some of Posner’s adversarial relationship with Irwin is rooted in this attraction. Dakin recognizes that Irwin is also attracted to Dakin and that Irwin is attempting to hide his identity. In the framing scenes, Posner also knows that Irwin and Dakin were on the verge of a sexual encounter at the time of the accident. Sadly, Lintott reveals at the end of the play that Posner’s future is far from bright. He lives a reclusive life, connected to the world primarily through the internet. He has emotional problems, which are mentioned in the “future” scenes with Irwin when he refers to his counselor. Although it is a downbeat prognosis, Posner’s future speaks to his unwillingness to conform in the way that the other boys do in order to achieve success in the world.

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