The History Boys

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Hector Character Analysis

Hector is the central character in the play, a beloved teacher who believes that his students should learn literature by heart in order to help them weather life’s difficulties. His teaching style is irreverent and energetic. He often has the boys act out scenes or sing songs, and he seems unhampered by the usual school rules. He does not believe that exams are useful. The Headmaster deplores Hector’s teaching style, because its results cannot be measured or quantified. We learn over the course of the play that Hector is lonely and dissatisfied in many ways. He has become disillusioned with teaching, he suppresses his homosexual desires, and he is in an emotionally distant marriage with a woman. He gropes his students while they ride behind him on his motorcycle, and this eventually leads him to lose his job. Dakin helps him re-gain his position at the last minute, but to no avail—Hector is killed while driving his motorcycle with Irwin on the back seat.

Hector Quotes in The History Boys

The The History Boys quotes below are all either spoken by Hector or refer to Hector. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Purpose of Education Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Farrar, Strauss and Giroux edition of The History Boys published in 2006.
Act 1 Quotes

I was confusing learning with the smell of cold stone. If I had gone to Oxford I’d probably never have worked out the difference.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hector, the beloved "General Studies" teacher for the boys, gives an account of his own education. As a young man, Hector was much like his students--he wanted to go to a famous, old-fashioned school like Oxford or Cambridge; a place that oozed respectability and prestige. But Hector looks back on his ambitions of attending Oxford or Cambridge with a sad amusement. He never managed to go to Oxford--instead, he attended, a newer, less prestigious school. Hector insists that his education at this "second-tier" university was good for him: it's actually more difficult to learn in a stuffy, old-fashioned environment like Oxford, where the "smell of cold stone" (a great symbol for the overall sense of prestige and pretentiousness there) distracts from education.

In short, Hector sees through the "rat race" of applying to Oxford and Cambridge, and tries to convince his students that there are more valuable things in life--not least, a real liberal arts education itself.

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You give them an education. I give them the wherewithal to resist it.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker), Mrs. Lintott
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hector the schoolmaster makes a clear distinction between learning and education. "Education," as most of the schoolteachers think of it, is a means to an end--a way for the working-class students of Sheffield to wise up, go to Oxford or Cambridge, and eventually have a successful life. Hector finds such a worldview incredibly naive--going to a good university won't make his students happy, even if their headmaster and other teachers insist that it will. Hector sees his duty to his students in almost Romantic terms: his job is to teach young men how to use poetry, music, and culture to find spiritual satisfaction. In other words, Hector idealizes his role as an educator, hoping that his students will learn to use culture to resist the rat-race of competition and materialistic success.

TIMMS: Sir, I don’t always understand poetry.
HECTOR: You don’t always understand it? Timms, I never understand it. But learn it now, know it now and you’ll understand it whenever.
TIMMS: I don’t see how we can understand it. Most of the stuff poetry’s about hasn’t happened to us yet.
HECTOR: But it will, Timms. It will. And then you will have the antidote ready! Grief. Happiness. Even when you’re dying. We’re making your deathbeds here, boys.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker), Timms (speaker)
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Hector's view of education is again at loggerheads with the realities of the scholastic world. Hector teaches his students that it's more important to embrace and memorize poetry in the present, so that somewhere down the line, it will give his students spiritual and intellectual nourishment when they need it more. Hector refuses to think in terms of university applications or materialistic success. He's just the opposite of Irwin, who speaks of using poetry to "add flavor" to one's admissions essay. Hector would never think of "using" poetry for such a narrow, practical purpose--poetry, he believes is something nobler and more powerful than that, useful for things like accepting one's mortality or finding meaning in grief and suffering. In his own way, Hector and Irwin agree that poetry is "useful"--but where Irwin thinks of poetry's use in practical terms, Hector argues that poetry has a spiritual or emotional use.

I count examinations, even for Oxford and Cambridge, as the enemy of education. Which is not to say that I don’t regard education as the enemy of education, too.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker)
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Irwin clashes with Hector over the true meaning of education. Irwin is trying to convince Hector to allow his students to use their vast knowledge of poetry, film, and art to write better admissions essays for Oxford and Cambridge. Hector then distinguishes between true education and the kinds of shallow essays that (presumably) guarantee acceptance to Oxford and Cambridge. Hector doesn't see any value in using poetry for material, literal success--poetry should exist on a purely spiritual level, providing comfort and solace for students.

Although Hector makes a persuasive argument for keeping admissions essays and art separate, his words are tinged with sadness. He suggests that education may itself be the enemy of education. One possible interpretation of these lines is that any kind of "teaching" is by nature enforcing conformity and stifling creativity. Another is that Hector questions whether his own love for poetry has made him any happier after all. Hector loves to teach his students to use the arts to improve their own lives, and yet Hector himself seems lonely and isolated, in spite of his vast knowledge of culture. Education is his enemy, not his friend--it's merely reminded him of his own sadness.

HECTOR: Codes, spells, runes — call them what you like, but do not call them gobbets.
IRWIN: I just thought it would be useful…
HECTOR: Oh, it would be useful…every answer a Christmas tree hung with the appropriate gobbets. Except that they’re learned by heart. And that is where they belong and like the other components of the heart not to be defiled by being trotted out to order.
IRWIN: So what are they meant to be storing them up for, these boys? Education isn’t something for when they’re old and grey and sitting by the fire. It’s for now. The exam is next month.
HECTOR: And what happens after the exam? Life goes on. Gobbets!

Related Characters: Hector (speaker), Irwin (speaker)
Page Number: 48-49
Explanation and Analysis:

Irwin has just praised Hector for giving his students vast quantities of "gobbets" of information. Hector immediately takes offense at Irwin's use of such a word, instead suggesting that the information Hector has passed to his students is a kind of magical secret--"codes, spells, runes."

A "gobbet," it's important to know, is a lump or morsel of food--Irwin metaphorically implies that Hector is "nourishing" his children with culture during his General Studies lessons. And yet Hector is irritated with Irwin's use of the word. Art and culture, he insists, aren't just objects to be gobbled up and digested by his students--rather, culture must be stored over time, so that years from now, the students will be able to turn to poetry and music for their spiritual satisfaction.

The differences between Irwin and Hector couldn't be plainer. Irwin thinks in short-term, highly practical terms: he wants his students to pass their exams this year. Hector, by contrast, seems to respect his students on a deeper level--he wants them to be happy in life, not just successful with their university applications. And yet he also doesn't accept that for many of them, life really could be better if they got into an elite college.

HECTOR: The transmission of knowledge is in itself an erotic act. In the Renaissance…
HEADMASTER: Fuck the Renaissance. And fuck literature and Plato and Michaelangelo and Oscar Wilde and all the other shrunken violets you people line up. This is a school and it isn’t normal.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker), Headmaster (speaker)
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Headmaster of the school speaks to Hector about his alleged sexual misconduct with his students. The Headmaster has learned that Hector rides on a motorcycle with his students, and sometimes gropes them. Furthermore, he now also believes that Hector molests his students during his classes--hence the locked door.

Hector begins to justify his sexual behavior to the Headmaster by citing the supposed proximity between education and eroticism. But the Headmaster will have no part of it: he dismisses Hector along with the long tradition of homoerotic intellectual figures (including Plato, who in his dialogue the Symposium claimed that true enlightenment is only possible with homosexual sex), claiming that Hector's attachment to his students isn't "normal."

Who's right here? It's possible to sympathize with Hector even as we recognize that he's abused his power and molested minors. Hector, presumably a closeted homosexual, has no outlets for his sexual desires--thus, he satisfies his urges by groping his students on the motorcycle. Hector genuinely cares about his children, yet he also uses them for his own pleasure. (There's a long tradition of gay English schoolteachers, including Auden and Ruskin.) At the same time, the boys are still boys, and so they can't really consent to this, even if they seem to go along with it, and the molestation could (and will) affect them for the rest of their lives. Hector's behavior is thus both extremely immoral and deeply sympathetic.

The best moments in reading are when you come across something — a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things — which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker), Posner
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

At the finale of Act I, Hector puts into action his theory that education is an erotic act. He discusses poetry with his student, Posner. As the conversation goes on, Hector makes a complicated analogy that shows his deep knowledge of the experience of reading. He argues that reading is most pleasurable when the reader feels an intense spiritual connection with the author--when the reader realizes that the author feels the same subtle, nuanced emotion that he (the reader) has secretly felt before.

It's important to note that Hector's description of reading is also sensual and even romantic--to read a great book, he suggests, is to love its author (the metaphor of the "hand" is particularly revealing). Hector seems to be on the verge of touching Posner with his own hand (though nothing happens). In all, the scene is tragic in that it shows Hector to be a sincere yet deeply frustrated man--someone who genuinely respects the spiritual aspect of education and yet also abuses his power to satisfy his own closeted sexual needs.

Act 2 Quotes

What made me piss my life away in this god-forsaken school? There’s nothing of me left. Go away. Class dismissed. Go.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker)
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

Hector begins to question his own philosophy of education and truth. Hector has spent his entire adult life teaching his students that poetry and art are valuable because they nourish the soul--yet he's also used his students for his own sexual pleasure. Now that Hector has been "found out," he begins to wonder if he was wrong to focus to exclusively on the spiritual side of education. In the middle of a lesson, Hector weeps into his desk, claiming that he's wasted his life.

What does Hector mean, "There's nothing of me left?" Hector has devoted his entire life to educating his students--now that he's been pressured to resign from school (since the Headmaster has found out about his acts of molestation), he sees his life in ruins. In a slightly different sense, Hector's resignation is symbolic of the school's changing philosophy of education: Hector's lofty, idealistic approach to the liberal arts is fading away, replaced by the more practical methods of Irwin. Notice, too, that in his moment of crisis, Hector seems not to derive any strength or satisfaction from poetry and art--in other words, he can't do the very thing he's always encouraged his students to do in times of depression.

Shall I tell you what is wrong with Hector as a teacher? It isn’t that he doesn’t produce results. He does. But they are unpredictable and unquantifiable and in the current educational climate that is no use.

Related Characters: Headmaster (speaker), Hector, Mrs. Lintott
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

In this surprising scene, the Headmaster reveals that his "problem" with Hector doesn't really have anything to do with Hector's acts of molestation--supposedly, the reason the Headmaster wanted Hector to resign. On the contrary, the Headmaster has long been unsatisfied with Hector's approach to education. Hector educates his students in poetry and art, but doesn't prepare them to succeed in tests or university applications. In the current education environment--where everything is about numbers and concrete results--there's no place for an old-fashioned liberal arts teacher like Hector. He's got to go; and the Headmaster is happy that he had a specific reason (the molestations) to ask Hector to resign. The Headmaster, one could say, is a barometer for the educational environment in England at the time--he understands that the times are changing, and students need to be better-prepared for tests, even if they have to sacrifice some of their love for the arts in the process.

What’s all this learning by heart for, except as some sort of insurance against the boys’ ultimate failure?

Related Characters: Mrs. Lintott (speaker), Hector
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mrs. Lintott reveals that she doesn't really admire Hector's approach to education any more than she admires Irwin's. Hector teaches his students to embrace art and poetry as "medicines" against suffering and loneliness. In doing so, Hector confirms his own loneliness and suffering--he's spent his entire adult life feeling lonely and sorry for himself, so it's only natural that he should pass on his pessimistic philosophy of poetry to his students.

Another way of interpreting Hector's educational philosophy is that Hector teaches his students how to accept and make light of their sadness, but doesn't actually teach them how to escape sadness. Irwin thinks that education is a tool with which students can "rise" in life, while Hector thinks it's a way for students to accept their fate (assuming that they never rise at all). Neither view of education is entirely satisfactory, Bennet suggests--the truth, as with everything in life, lies somewhere in the middle.

I didn’t teach you and Wittgenstein didn’t screw it out of his very guts in order for you to turn it into a dinky formula.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker), Dakin
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Hector has a moving conversation with his student, Dakin. In the past, Hector taught his students a famous quote from the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (like Hector, a lonely schoolteacher, probably homosexual): "whereof we cannot speak, we must pass over in silence." Dakin repeats the Wittgenstein quote here, and tells Hector that he'll use it on his university admissions exams. Hector is furious that Dakin is using Hector's lessons for such practical, materialistic aims. Hector accuses Dakin of reducing the complexity and majesty of Wittgenstein to a mere sound-bite--in applying to university, Dakin has lost all respect for philosophy.

In short, the passage shows that Dakin is beginning to gravitate toward Irwin's philosophy of education--the philosophy that sees art and culture as ways of "flavoring" a university essay to win some extra points. Hector is disgusted with such a reductive way of thinking about culture--and doubly disgusted that his own pupils are "betraying" him by agreeing with Irwin.

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Hector Character Timeline in The History Boys

The timeline below shows where the character Hector appears in The History Boys. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
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...to a classroom at an all-boys school in northern England, some time in the 1980s. Hector, a history teacher, enters in a motorcycle helmet and leather motorcycling outfit. Eight sixth-formers—boys ages... (full context)
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Hector opens his class by congratulating the boys on a good performance on their A Levels... (full context)
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The title “General Studies,” Hector continues, is a euphemism. (Posner looks up the word and defines it for the audience:... (full context)
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Timms asks if Housman was a “nancy,” a pejorative slang word for a homosexual man. Hector tells him not to use that word, and hits him on the head with a... (full context)
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Hector sits down, pretending to be shocked. He says that he thought “that silliness was finished... (full context)
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Dakin notes, “you’re hitting us again, sir.” Hector says that “whatever I do in this room is a token of my trust…it is... (full context)
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Back in the present, the boys discuss the hitting. Rudge says that Hector hits the boys he likes (and that’s not Rudge himself). Dakin says, “happily,” that he’s... (full context)
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The scene changes to the staff room. The Headmaster asks Mrs. Lintott, the school’s history teacher, what her plans are for “these Oxbridge boys.... (full context)
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The Headmaster exits as Hector enters. Mrs. Lintott asks Hector if he himself tried to get into... (full context)
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...turns out to be the new history teacher, Irwin, who is in his mid-twenties. The Headmaster enters and ushers Irwin into his study. He says that the boys are preparing for... (full context)
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Then the Headmaster comments that the boys are all smart—except for Rudge. Rudge plans to apply for admission... (full context)
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The scene changes to Hector’s classroom. He asks the boys, in French, where they would like to work today. The... (full context)
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...says that it must be another client, and goes to open it. It is the Headmaster and Irwin. Hector, still speaking French, greets the Headmaster, who begins to respond in English... (full context)
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Soon, the Headmaster interrupts to introduce Irwin as a new professor at the school. Then, in English, he... (full context)
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Hector asks who is going home now, but no one responds. He says that he’s sure... (full context)
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...Irwin is “only five minutes older than we are.” Then Dakin asks what happened with Hector on the motorcycle. Scripps says it was the same as usual, but that he managed... (full context)
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Dakin says that he sometimes wishes Hector would “just go for it.” Scripps says that Hector does go for it, but Dakin... (full context)
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The scene shifts to the staff room. Mrs. Lintott remarks to Hector that Irwin seems “clever.” Hector agrees: “depressingly so.” Mrs. Lintott says that men are generally... (full context)
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...that’s enough, and Dakin says that at least he’s gotten farther with Fiona than the Headmaster, Felix, has. He “chases her round the desk hoping to cop a feel.” Posner, who... (full context)
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...The other boys come back into the classroom from their break. The scene changes to Hector’s General studies class. Hector asks Posner to recite a poem, and Timms groans that he... (full context)
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Someone knocks at the locked door to the classroom. Hector begins quoting from a scene in Hamlet in which he orders that the door be... (full context)
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Then Hector moves on to a game that they play in class. The boys challenge him to... (full context)
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...this leads Timms to quote a poem. Irwin asks if they learned that poem with Hector, and Timms evades the question. Then Irwin asks why Hector works behind a locked door... (full context)
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Irwin asks whether Hector has a “programme” to his teaching, and Akthar and Timms say that it’s about the... (full context)
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...beginning of life,” and Dakin asks whether Irwin likes the poet Auden. He says that Hector does, and so they hear a lot about him. He was a teacher for a... (full context)
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...they could answer an exam question about Auden, and they all protest. Timms says that Hector’s stuff is “not meant for the exam,” but rather “it’s to make us more rounded... (full context)
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...think so. Mrs. Lintott says that “a nickname is an achievement,” and Irwin comments that Hector doesn’t have one. Mrs. Lintott says that “Hector” is it—his real name is Douglas, but... (full context)
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Irwin, back in the scene with Posner, asks what the boys do in Hector’s lessons. Posner says “nothing,” and adds, “you shouldn’t ask me that, sir.” Irwin calls it... (full context)
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The scene changes to an unidentified location. Irwin and Hector are mid-conversation. Irwin says that he’s gathered that the boys know a lot of information... (full context)
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Hector immediately objects to this characterization, saying, “codes, spells, runes—call them what you like, but do... (full context)
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The scene changes again. The Headmaster asks Irwin how the boys are doing, and Irwin says he thinks they’re doing well.... (full context)
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Mrs. Lintott enters, and the Headmaster exits. She tells Irwin that if he remains a teacher, he’ll learn that Headmasters are... (full context)
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Scripps begins to narrate. He says that halfway through the school term, the Headmaster calls Hector into his office. There, he asks Hector why he teaches “behind locked doors,”... (full context)
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Hector doesn’t immediately answer. Then he quotes a line of A.E. Housman’s poetry: “The tree of... (full context)
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The Headmaster asks if Hector’s wife knows about this, and Hector says he’s not sure, but he... (full context)
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The scene changes to Hector’s classroom. Hector sits at his desk wearing his motorcycle clothes, and Posner enters. Hector asks... (full context)
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...poem is about an army drummer who dies, and is buried in a foreign land. Hector and Posner discuss it. Hector points out that the dead soldier has a name and... (full context)
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Hector goes on to say that Hardy had a “saddish” life. He also notes that Hardy... (full context)
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There is a moment in which it seems that Hector might grab Posner’s hand, or place his hand on Posner’s knee. But nothing happens. Hector... (full context)
Act 2
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...at the paper. He says that Irwin looks good in the story. Irwin asks how Hector comes off. The man doesn’t reply. (full context)
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The scene flashes back again, to Hector’s classroom. Hector seems “somber and distracted.” Posner steps up to define apotheosis: “a perfect example... (full context)
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Hector tells them all to get back to reading. Akthar and Lockwood complain that that’s no... (full context)
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Hector begins to recover. He says that he doesn’t know what he was crying about. Timms,... (full context)
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The scene changes. The Headmaster asks Mrs. Lintott whether Hector told her the reason for his departure. She says, “more... (full context)
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The Headmaster exits, and Mrs. Lintott begins narrating to the audience. She says that she has so... (full context)
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Mrs. Lintott asks Irwin if he thinks that Hector is a good teacher, and Irwin says he supposes that he does. Mrs. Lintott says... (full context)
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The boys and Hector enter the room. Irwin asks Hector how they should start, and he says that he... (full context)
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...subject like any other,” and Scripps protests that it’s “not like any other at all.” Hector says that concentration camps are now destinations for school trips, and that he has always... (full context)
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...silent on the topic. Dakin counters that this answer could apply to many different topics. Hector agrees, earnestly. Dakin then quotes the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: “whereof one cannot speak thereof one... (full context)
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Timms recalls a time in class when Hector said that one death can be more instructive than many deaths. Timms quotes Hector back... (full context)
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...a major factor in crafting their examination answers. It’s practically just “another point of view.” Hector asks, “why can you not simply condemn the camps outright as an unprecedented horror?” A... (full context)
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...gravity. Rudge speaks a French proverb meaning “to understand all is to forgive all,” and Hector is again discouraged by the shallow use of this quote (he groans). Irwin says Posner’s... (full context)
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The bell rings. Irwin tells Hector that he thought the lesson went well. Hector says that it was discouraging to hear... (full context)
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...like that—just “making it up all the time. Being different, outrageous.” Then Dakin says that Hector no longer seems to like him as much. Scripps says that he’s stopped taking anyone... (full context)
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The scene changes to the Headmaster’s study. He tells Irwin that he’s gotten a letter from Posner’s parents, who are Jewish,... (full context)
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...says he’s not sure he wants them too, but they’re painful. Scripps reminds him that Hector considers pain the best education. Posner says he wishes he could get graded for it. (full context)
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The scene changes. Hector, Irwin, and Mrs. Lintott are sitting behind a table, giving the boys mock admissions interviews.... (full context)
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Hector asks Mrs. Lintott what she thinks. She reminds them that one of the dons interviewing... (full context)
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...him take another look at what actually happened. Dakin calls this “subjunctive history,” and says Hector is crazy about the subjunctive, the “mood you use when something might or might not... (full context)
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...front, jokes that he’d “just like to graduate to a chair.” Mrs. Lintott and the Headmaster arrange the boys, and then the Headmaster asks Hector to take the photo. Mrs. Lintott... (full context)
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Irwin and Mrs. Lintott wait for the Headmaster. They are not sure what he wants to discuss with them, but they assume that... (full context)
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...and Mrs. Lintott suggests that Oxford just cares that he make a lot of money. Hector and the Headmaster emerge from the office, and the Headmaster calls Mrs. Lintott in with... (full context)
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Hector tells Irwin that the discussion will be about his “marching orders,” and Irwin says that... (full context)
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Irwin asks if a student has ever made Hector “unhappy,” and Hector says that he’s over that phase. He sees pain as an “inoculation”... (full context)
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Mrs. Lintott re-emerges from the office. Hector says that he assumes she knew, and the boys too. Mrs. Lintott jokes that “they... (full context)
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Following this narration, “the boys erupt onto the stage.” The Headmaster says that all of them have received places at Oxford and Cambridge, with special honors... (full context)
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Irwin protests that Dakin has already had to endure Hector’s gropings, but Dakin says that Hector is “a joke” and that Irwin couldn’t be like... (full context)
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...you. Scripps jokes that this seems excessive. Then Dakin says that he talked to the Headmaster. He asked him pointedly whether there’s any difference between Hector’s gropings and the Headmaster’s own... (full context)
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Hector enters, cheerful and wearing his motorcycle outfit. Rudge asks him whether they’re still playing the... (full context)
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The Headmaster enters and sees Dakin in the motorcycle helmet. He immediately protests, and then Irwin walks... (full context)
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...wheelchair, and the students sing the song Bye Bye Blackbird while photos of a young Hector flash across a screen. The Headmaster begins a eulogy. He says that Hector “loved language.... (full context)
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Mrs. Lintott says that Hector didn’t have an agenda about where each boy would end up. She then gives details... (full context)
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Hector comes back into the scene. He tells Mrs. Lintott to finish, saying, “the bright day... (full context)