The History Boys

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Themes and Colors
The Purpose of Education Theme Icon
History and Truth Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Hope and Failure Theme Icon
Class and Gender Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The History Boys, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

One of the play’s major questions is about the general purpose of knowledge and education. Are they meant to be practically useful, to help students pass examinations and be quantifiably successful? Or are they meant to inspire personal growth and wisdom, and to help students through painful experiences? On the furthest end of this question is the grammar school’s Headmaster, who sees education in utilitarian terms. He wants his students to attend prestigious universities…

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The History Boys shows that history is ultimately random—both in terms of what happens, and in terms of what we choose to remember. Linked to this theme is the question of whether or not it is important to search for truth in the study of history. Irwin tells the boys that it is not important to be truthful in their arguments—as long as their arguments are unique and interesting. Scripps says at one point that…

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The boys in the play are coming of age both intellectually and sexually, and these two growing up processes are often linked in The History Boys. In one scene, Scripps and Dakin compare Dakin’s seduction of Fiona with the progress of World War II. Later, Dakin concludes that “history is fucking.” The play raises major questions about the purpose of education, so these comments make us wonder, too, about the purpose of sex. Is…

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The hope of getting into Oxford or Cambridge is a driving force in the play. The Headmaster wants it badly for his students, and the students want it, too. Only Hector seems to understand that a prestigious university won’t be the culmination of his students’ lives and happiness—yet he doesn’t have all the answers, either. Hector admits to Irwin that part of him wants the boys to “compete,” and Mrs. Lintott suggests that Hector’s teaching…

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The History Boys takes place at an all-boys school in England. It’s a grammar school, meaning that students don’t have to pay to attend (though they have to pass entrance exams), and the most prestigious schools in Britain are private schools, which primarily serve richer students. Irwin reminds the boys that they’ll be competing against more privileged peers, like people who have traveled to Rome and can talk about that on the exam. Given their…

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