In this play, the author Alan Bennett wants to convince the audience that education can be approached in many different ways. In fact, through the characters of Hector, Irwin, Dorothy Lintott and the headmaster, he shows us that there is no “right” or “wrong” way of teaching. The first educator properly introduced to the audience is Hector, a rather unusual teacher. The first scene starts in French, which is quite unexpected since Hector is a literature teacher.
In this scene, we also understand Hector’s opinion about renowned universities: for him, going to Oxford or Cambridge is the same as going to another good university that is not as famous. He says: “I thought that after last year we were settling for the less lustrous institutions…Derby, Leicester, Nottingham. […] Believe also in me: forget Oxford and Cambridge”. Later on in this scene, Hector makes his students improvise a situation in French (according a special importance to the subjunctive), the pupils decide to pretend they are in a brothel, and the teacher seems interested.
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It shows us that his way of teaching is very different and definitely not traditional, it could even be considered as inappropriate since (as we will understand later on in the play) Hector takes advantage of his students. Hector doesn’t really prepare the students for the university exams, he is mostly preparing them for life. To sum up, I would say Hector is charismatic, eccentric and refuses to conform to modern teaching, and even though he is morally incorrect due to his sexual abuses towards the young men, he still is a good teacher, that is trying his best to make the students succeed in life.
The headmaster is another important character in the play. He has a very different point of view on education. The headmaster doesn’t really like Hector, because he likes the traditional way of teaching and he also wants his school to be one of the best in the country, and in order to reach this goal, the boys have to enter “Oxbridge”. As he explains to Mrs Lintott: “I am thinking league tables. Open scholarships. Reports to the Governors. I want them to do themselves justice. I want them to do you justice. Factually tip-top as your boys always are, something more is required.
”, he later says: “I want to be up there with Manchester Grammar, Haberdasher Asks, Leighton Park… ”. Felix is a very selfish and stubborn headmaster, that isn’t really paying attention to his students, he only wants his school to succeed. He always want to control the situation, and when he can’t he is very frustrated. For example, when he arrives in the middle of the French lesson Hector is supervising, he is not confident in French at all and is disturbed: “Enough of this…silliness. Not silliness, no…but…”. It’s due to Mrs Lintott if the boys got such good grades for their A-Levels.
During the play, Dorothy isn’t teaching the boys anymore, but she still has an important role since she is the teachers confident, and is seen as neutral, although she has very clear opinions: as she says to the headmaster : “I tend not to distinguish […] between centres of higher learning”. In other words, as long as the boys go to a good university, she isn’t regardful of the reputation. She also brings humour to the play, since she is very honest and often uses taboo language in a very natural way: (about Dakin) “He is a cunt-struck”.
Mrs Lintott tells the boys that women have been excluded from their view of history, and that their view of life is too male-centric, she even says: “History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind… with a bucket. ” Her way of teaching is traditional, and she is a realistic woman. Finally, Irwin is, from my point of view, the main and the most important character of this play, since he is the “narrator” of this story. He has a completely different view of education than Hector, we could almost say they are opposite.
One of the first thing we learn about him is that he studied in Oxford, which is probably one of the reasons why the headmaster hired him as the new history teacher for the boys. He seems very intelligent and cultivated despite his very young age since when being introduced to the students during their French improvisation, he uses a French word that even Hector doesn’t know: “Il est commotionne, peut-etre? ”. Unlike Hector, he really prepares his pupils for their exam, and teaches the boys to approach history in a way which can be seen as a game – taking an original approach by simply arguing the opposite to what the normal belief is.
They take it as a game, seeing an opportunity to show off the facts which Mrs Lintott has taught them. But Irwin believes it can lead to greater truth, in that it forces them to think more deeply. During the lesson he shares with Hector, we really see the contrast between the two characters. For Hector, the Holocaust is a subject that cannot be argued, but Irwin sees there an opportunity to, once more, see history from a different angle. In conclusion, I would say that it is thanks to both Irwin and Hector if the boys eventually get in Oxbridge.
Through the contrast between the two main teachers, the author wanted to show that education is subjective, and that everyone has a different way of approaching it. Indeed, by making Hector a paedophile but a great teacher, he also wants to point out that even if someone has defects, and is in some way morally incorrect, that person can still have something to teach, and they can be very intelligent. The opposition of the different personalities and point of views of the four adults in this play illustrates a lot of aspects of education, very different, yet very interesting and important.
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