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In what ways are the boys in "The Destructors" by Graham Greene isolated?

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teacher7121 | eNoter

Posted December 9, 2011 at 11:05 AM via web

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In what ways are the boys in "The Destructors" by Graham Greene isolated?

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clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 9, 2011 at 11:28 PM (Answer #1)

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You could answer this question in a number of ways, especially if you make inferences into the context of their situation and compare the boys to your own experience of "normal."  However, without even reading terribly deeply into this story it is obvious that these boys are isolated.

First, look at the historical context of the neighborhood in which these boys live.  It is a post WW2 neighborhood which has been bombed.

The gang met every morning in an impromptu car park, the site of the last bomb of the first blitz. The leader, who was known as Blackie, claimed to have heard it fall, and no one was precise enough in his dates to point out he would have been one year old and fast asleep on the down platform of Wormsley Common Underground station.

Because of their ages, these boys have grown up in the aftermath of destruction.  They have no idea of "they way things were" nor how/if the world could be better because they do not know another life.  In many ways, their rebellion comes from a sense of innocence and boredom, rather than being driven by the desire to return to something that once was.

An additional clue into the boys isolation is their inexperience and general sense of childishness.  There are no adult influences presented in the story.  Old Misery is a victim of their destruction, but not necessarily the direct cause of their rebellion.  They are self-motivated and self led.  Blackie, the original leader, gives up his leadership easily to a new boy within a few months, simply because this new boy walks and talks with an air of confidence.  Blackie, who is not prone to jealousy, is okay with being replaced as the leader because he seems to simply want the gang to remain together.  As a group of children who all look to one another for answers, isolation is defined by their innocence and immaturity.  Though the story has been examined as a political allegory, at face value, this group is really just a bunch of bored little boys wreaking havoc and destroying things for fun, without any real sense of potential consequences.

The last clue into the boys' isolation is simply the scope of the short story itself.  There is very little background presented about each boy, and virtually nothing is spoken of what happens after they destroy the house.  This is a story of an isolated incident, which only makes the characters themselves more mysterious, and the story more ambiguous.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 29, 2011 at 8:14 PM (Answer #2)

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I think it is important to consider the isolation of the boys in the widest sense of this word, because, if we think about it, really they are isolated in a large number of ways. Let us consider their position for one moment. They have grown up in an environment of danger and war, where they are surrounded by destruction on every side. The way in which the setting of the story is a bombed car park surrounded by the detritus of war shows how they are isolated from other signs of life by their location, except of course for Old Misery's house.

However, at the same time the boys are shown to be isolated from the society of which they are a part. Note what we are told they spend their days doing:

At Blackie’s suggestion the gang was to disperse in pairs, take buses at random and see how many free rides could be snatched from unwary conductors (the operation was to be carried out in pairs to avoid cheating). They were drawing lots for their companions when T arrived.

The gang therefore spend their days engaging in tasks of trivial law-breaking, focusing on anti-social activities that clearly demonstrate that they are isolated from mainstream society.

Lastly, if we consider the character of T., we can see that in addition the boys are isolated within themselves and their emotions. Consider how T. responds to his downfall and the immense anger that lurks within him:

The last burning note illuminated his brooding face. ‘All this hate and love,’ he said, ‘it’s soft, it’s hooey. There’s only things, Blackie,’ and he looked round the room crowded with the unfamiliar shadows of half things, broken things, former things.

This quote makes clear how T. has been made into a boy who is completely detached and isolated, even from normal human emotions. Thus, in answering this question it is vital to be aware of the many different kinds of ways in which the boys are isolated.

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