History Boys - Sample answer (continued)

This turning of the tables is similar to the fact that Rudge gets into Oxford – in fact, he is the only one of the boys who is told at interview that he has got in. He gets in because his father was a worker at the college, and the college sees this as a potential PR coup, in terms of widening participation in higher education. Essentially Rudge gets in because he is working class. There is a sense of snobbishness throughout the play, with the insistence on Oxbridge above other universities, and this is especially clear in this scene. However, Rudge’s final speech in the scene, where he shows that he was able both to follow Irwin’s advice and to see through it (Quotation – page 98) show that he has brains too. It is the attitude of the Headmaster, who suggests they shouldn’t have let Rudge try at all, which makes me angry on Rudge’s behalf and therefore sympathetic. Alan Bennett also came from a working class background, and Rudge’s success and ability to turn the tables on his teacher feels like it might be a kind of revenge on his part too.

Despite Rudge’s success, even at the very end of the play, when Mrs Lintott is reciting the future jobs of the boys, his success is underrated. She describes his job in a derogatory way (Quotation – page 107) but he refuses to acknowledge this description. He has a business which is named after him and he is proud of it. He also points out that it’s just another form of being patronised, which he’d had enough of at school. Mrs Lintott acknowledges this and has sympathy with it, linking it by implication to the role of women in history and her own role within the school. This linking of the two characters, when Mrs Lintott is the teacher who most deserves the audience’s sympathy, given the way she is presented in the play as honest but unregarded by the male teachers, suggests that Bennett wants us to sympathise with Rudge, and it works.

Rudge stands up for himself, which may suggest that he does not need our sympathy. However, the ongoing snobbery towards him, because of his intellect and because of his class, despite his achievements, means that he is deserving of our sympathy, and makes him one of the most likeable characters in The History Boys.