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 class background, the grammar school boys have a harder road to success. Rudge, in particular, comes from a working-class family. Throughout the play, people look down on him, condescend to him, and assume that he won’t succeed. His father was a janitor—but he was a janitor at Oxford, and this fact ultimately helps Rudge get admitted. This is only the case, however, because Oxford apparently wants to make a show of progress by having the son of a janitor attend as an undergraduate. This situation helps illuminate the way that class figures in the play’s overall argument about historical truth. Throughout history, socioeconomic status works in contradictory and sometimes random ways to affect the ways that events unfold. Class is mostly a hurdle for these boys on their journey, but at one crucial moment, Rudge’s working-class background helps him. The play thus shows class as one of the invisible factors affecting history.
Another of these invisible factors is gender. The play calls attention to the way that women are edged out of positions of power and erased from history, and it also dramatizes this fact in its own structure. There is only one female character who speaks in the play: Mrs. Lintott. The others (including Dakin’s love interest, Fiona) exist only when men talk about them. Mrs. Lintott even notes partway through the play that she has not yet been given the chance to have her own internal life through narration. Later, she gives a memorable monologue about the role of women in history, arguing that “history is women following behind with the bucket.” Men take the lead and make the mistakes, and women clean up. She also says that men are better than women at skewing historical facts to suit whatever narrative they want. Mrs. Lintott’s observations thus call attention to another way that history fails to be fully truthful—it often erases the experience of women.
Class and Gender ThemeTracker
Class and Gender Quotes in The History Boys
Hate them because these boys and girls against whom you are to compete have been groomed like thoroughbreds for this one particular race.
I’m a Jew.
And I live in Sheffield.