Comparing the Book The Outsiders


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The characteristics of an outsider can be limitless. Both Alan Bennett and Muriel Spark explore the concept of the outsider in The History Boys and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Throughout the play and novel, different characters, like Hector, Miss Jean Brodie, Posner, Mary, could be perceived as an outsider by the audience or reader. For example, Hector and Miss Jean Brodie could be perceived as an outsider due to their openness of their unique style of teaching and almost choosing to be an outsider so they can elevate their teaching to be seen as superior to their students. Posner and Mary could be considered the outsiders because even though they are part of the small group that their teachers have made, they are still the outsiders due to the treatment from their teacher and fellow classmates.

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Within The History Boys there are more outsiders compared to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The two more clear outsiders in both are Hector and Miss Brodie, who share a lot of similarities. One being their different approach to teaching, which at the time they were both set, could’ve caused a bit of controversy with the audience/reader. From the start of The History Boys it’s clear to the audience that Hector doesn’t like exams or A-Levels, he describes them as ‘the enemy of education’ and how they’re ‘your cheats VISA… the footing of your CV’. This shows that Hector believes that exams and A-Levels are a way for young adults to ‘cheat’ to get a job by showing off qualifications. His use of alliteration, ‘enemy of education’ could show that there is something theatrical about Hector and how he always wants to impress others with his wide-spread knowledge, which he tries to implant in the boys’ minds. This could place him apart from other teachers because this further confirms that he doesn’t take the traditional education system seriously.

The use of Hectors pompous language, such as ‘Now fades the thunder of the youth of England clearing summers obligatory hurdles. Felicitations to you all’ pokes fun at other teachers, like Irwin, the Headmaster and Mrs. Lintott, who take A-Levels seriously, which puts him aside from other teachers. The word ‘Felicitations’ shows Hector using archaic language which adds to his charismatic and theatrical character and shows the reader that he uses his ‘bank of literature’ regularly which isn’t normal for a traditional teacher to do. His ‘bank of literature’ is seen again when his actions against the boys are exposed and the Headmaster, being wary about what the school will be labelled as if the word got out that a teacher had groomed his students, urged for Hectors early retirement. Yet when questioned why he did it, he excused his actions by saying ‘it was a laying-on of hands’ showing that he doesn’t understand what he has done wrong. With this and his other means of being a teacher that doesn’t conform to the norms of a traditional school, causes tension between him and the Headmaster.

The Headmaster, in my opinion, is particularly harsh towards Hector because, to a modern audience, one might say that Hector is teaching his class that there is more to life than A-Levels. But an audience at the time may agree with the Headmaster in trying to condemn Hectors way of teaching. With the Headmaster trying to contain and condemn Hector’s teaching and making him share lessons with Irwin, it makes Hector the clear outsider and could make the audience feel sympathetic towards Hector. The Headmaster, in act one, talks to Hector and as he tries to explain his actions on the infamous motorbike rides where he tries to justify his disturbing actions with literature where The Headmaster says ‘Fuck the Renaissance. And fuck literature… this is a school and it isn’t normal.’ (PAGE 53) while the Headmasters tone is harsh and usually a school should welcome a differ in traditional teaching with curiosity, but as the scene as a whole shows Hectors blindness to see what he’s done wrong evaporates any sort of sympathy that the audience may have for Hector. The motorbike rides symbolises how Hector has gained the trust of his students to them take that for granted, but what shocks the audience is how the boys don’t protest to it and they all accept the offer of a ride home that Hector offers them, however he doesn’t ask Posner. On page 17, Hectors asks who’s going home but there aren’t any offers, seeing his opportunity Posner says ‘I’ll come sir’ but Hector denies his request by saying ‘no, no,. Never mind’ This could prove that Posner is the outsider student within the group as Hector doesn’t turn down the opportunity to take the others home, but later the audience learns that Hector is very weary of Posner, maybe because he sees a lot of himself in Posner, for example when they are talking about the lonely soldier. ‘I’m Jewish, I’m small, I’m a homosexual, and I live in Sheffield. I’m fucked’

Within his classmates, Posner is a visible outsider within Hectors class, and the play as a whole. Bennett created Posner as homosexual, something that, at the time the play was set, wasn’t something that was talked about let alone accepted across the nation. From the start of act one, Posner displays his femininity when Hector and the boys are playing out a French brothel scene and Posner states that he is ‘la femme de chambre’ meaning he is the maid. With this early exposure to Posner acting as a female character could foreshadow that in the future he’s so lonely he poses ‘on the internet … none in his right name or even gender’ and could hint towards him always being unhappy with his identity. Along with posing as both female and male on the internet he describes himself as ‘fucked’ when listing how he is a ‘Jew small … homosexual’ and lives in Sheffield, could be the start of his self-criticism journey. At the end of the play, Posner ‘has long since stopped asking himself what went wrong’, which could resemble Hectors questioning himself to what made him ‘piss my life away in this god-foresakin place. There’s nothing left of me’ Posner use of alliteration, ‘since stopped. What went wrong’ stays in the audiences’ minds after the play and shows just how lonely Posner is. This resembles Hector because he questions what his life has come to and shows that him and Posner have the same mindset, but Posner is ahead of Hector as he has ‘stopped asking himself what went wrong’. This leaves the audience feeling sympathy for both characters, especially Posner, because they were two outsiders in the play and caused them to really question their lives.

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