History Boys - Sample answer

The following sample answer has no quotations in it. It has page numbers at points where you would put quotations in – use your copy of the play script to pick out the quotation you’d use there. (The page numbers refer to the paperback copy of the Faber script.)

Which boy do you have the most sympathy for and why?

Although there are many characters who provoke our sympathy in The History Boys, the character for whom I have the most sympathy is Rudge. Rudge is not one of the leaders of the boys, and he does not end up as unhappy as Posner, but his experiences at school, and gentle patience, lead me to have the most sympathy for him.

Rudge is the least bright of the boys, or is presented as such by the teachers’ comments about him. At the very beginning of the play, welcoming the boys back, Hector notes with some surprise that even Rudge has managed to get good results (Quotation – page 4). This is shown again in the mock interview when Rudge struggles to tell the teachers what they want to hear. The reason that this provokes my sympathy is that he is aware of how the others see him, and he, quite rightly, feels that he has his own talents which are simply different. He points out that he can talk about golf in the way that the other boys can talk about architecture, or history or film. (Quotation – page 86).

One of the reasons that Rudge is perceived as being less bright is that he works very hard – there is reference in the play to his writing down everything, and asking to be told what he should write down. Irwin mocks him for it (Quotation – page 26). This response from Irwin is what makes me feel sympathetic towards Rudge: although Irwin is trying to teach Rudge something important –in this case it is about personal opinion and argument rather than truth – he goes about it in a cruel way. Rudge clearly finds Irwin’s approach confusing, as he confesses to Mrs Lintott that he misses her lessons because she provided firm answers, and facts which he could rely on.

Rudge’s need for facts he can rely on, and his inability to read between the lines of what he is being told, is revealed by the mock interview with the teachers. Told to say that he likes film, he tells them that he likes a film (Quotation – page 86), not understanding what he has been told to do. The teachers try to impose their view of what an intelligent candidate should say onto Rudge, but because it does not suit him, it does not work. Bennett uses Rudge in this scene to create humour, which feels unfair on Rudge. Rudge’s outburst and lengthy speech in this scene, however, shows that he has his own intelligence (although it is not the kind which can produce the flashy essays required by Irwin). Rudge’s tricking of the teachers into believing that Jean-Paul Sartre was a keen golfer (Quotation – page 87) turns the tables on them, and the fact that he is clever enough to do this without them realising makes me like him more.