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To What Extent Is Hector Portrayed as a Comic Hero?

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Aristotle’s definition of a comic hero means that “he or she must display at least the minimal level of personal charm or worth of character it takes to win the audience’s basic approval and support.” This essentially means that this character is an imperfect character who wins the audience’s approval. In this case, Alan Bennett portrays Hector in The History Boys.

The audience can detect from the start that Hector has a vast knowledge of literature and the love for literature. This is shown by Hector quoting Shakespeare’s Othello “wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire”. This demonstrates a clear indication as to the knowledge Hector had about literature and he takes advantage of this knowledge and indirectly help the students to learn about life. To further portray Hector as a comic hero, Bennett gives him a symbolic name; in Greek mythology, Hector was a Trojan War hero, the bravest and greatest fighter during the Trojan War. Through name symbolism, Bennett subtly foreshadows that Hector is a fighter throughout the play and introduces the theme of fighting.

Moreover, when Hector is first introduced, Bennett shows his relationship with the boys. In Act 1, when Hector arrives on his motorcycle “clad in his leathers”, we see the boys gathered to collect his gear, reciting what items they remove. This tells the audience how intimate their relationship is and also how the boys try to please Hector by repeating what they have been taught. Hector hits the boys with a book, but the boys don’t seem to mind knowing that “he hits you if he likes you” and Dakin happily replies “I’m black and blue”. The alliterative ‘b’ reflects on the harsh sound of the books hitting and the abuse inflicted but is actually portrayed as a light hearted comment. It is, however, ironic in a way considering what was happening during 1980’s- things like child abuse. This shows that for the boys this is a normal thing that happens. Also, the colours black and blue could also be a direct link to dark humour. Also, “black” connotes despair, darkness and anxiety and “blue” connotes depression. Bennett uses this scene to show one of the imperfect things about Hector. During this scene, the audience might be able to subtly see Bennett using foreshadowing as to why Hector, a “general studies” teacher, is so close to these boys who are preparing to go to Oxbridge. The audience, at this point, will not see Hector as a comic hero because of the hints Bennett includes about the unusual behaviour of a teacher in a classroom and the strange relationship between him and the students.

To further demonstrate to the audience about Hector’s personality, Bennett constructs Hector to be a “man of studied eccentricity”. The verb “studied” suggests that Hector has a vast education and maybe more experience than the other teachers. It could also show how much he loved to study because throughout the play, Hector quotes from “Brief Encounter” and Edith Piaf “La Vie en Rose”. However, even after all this knowledge; Hector shocks the boys by wondering “what made me piss my life away in this god-forsaken place” showing the audience the fragility of Hector’s world behind his persona in the classroom and knowledge. It shows a fragile man who feels alone and needs someone who can understand him. This could be Bennett’s means of introducing the theme of loneliness. The audience can also apply relief theory as the expletive is used. Through this, they can understand that maybe Hector is not what he seems and puts on a mask, thus not being a comic hero in the minds of the audience and creating binary oppositions of ‘blindness’ over ‘perception’.

Additionally, Hector displays his imperfection by being subversive initially in the French scene. In the play we can see that Hector is against the education system when he refuses to teach -“the euphemistic title of general studies” –what is not necessary for the Oxbridge exam. This scene should not have happened in the first place because it is not normal to make students perform something from that Posner clarifies “a brothel”. This itself shows Hector’s adamance to defy the education system and the school. During this scene, some of the audience might lose their respect for Hector. Bennett reiterates to the audience Hector’s hatred towards the education system in saying “exams are the enemy of education" thus introducing education system as a key theme.

Also, we could apply the superiority theory when Irwin and the Headmaster (symbolised as the education system) find Dakin without his trousers. Bennett builds dramatic tension through relief theory and stage directions “the boys are frozen” but at this point, Hector cleverly saves himself and the boys by first taking advantage of the headmaster’s lack of fluency in French and creates a diversion, therefore relieving the situation light heartedly. Due to the relationship the boys and Hector have, they play along and manage to recreate a scene from a war in Belgium. This means that they not only deceive Irwin and the Headmaster but also the whole education system. This displays to the audience, how bravely subversive Hector is regarding it. This could probably gain the lost respect from the audience. To show how different Irwin and the Headmaster are to Hector, Bennett constructs them to walk in at the same time and stand together on one side and Hector and the boys unite together on the other. By using stage craft and juxtaposition, Bennett shows the audience that the boys and Hector are at a disparity from the Headmaster and Irwin. For Irwin and the Headmaster, everything is about the facts and statistics-like the league tables in 1980s. This indication might cause a separation between the minds of the audience as it creates a binary opposition of ‘objectivity’ and ‘subjectivity’ not only between the characters but also the audience as they would decide who is right and wrong.

However, in a profound scene with Hector and Posner, we see that for the first time Hector does not ignore Posner as a minor but listens to him. After reciting the poem ‘Drummer Hodge’ both of them express how they feel indirectly about their situation and thus display intertextuality because parts of the poem can be related to both of them “with both of them it brings a sense of not sharing…not being in the swim”. When Hector says this, the audience can understand that they are both social outcasts and are alone in the midst of their peers because this phrase is a metaphorical parallel. They are homosexuals who are afraid of reality in a way and are trying to overcome that fear and therefore are “not being in the swim”. To “swim”, there needs to be coordination of the body, in the same way, Hector and Posner are not in coordination with the society. This makes Hector look more



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