Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Greene’s narrator is selectively omniscient. Although the reader is made aware of the internal doubts and anxieties of Blackie, the deposed leader, the inner workings of T’s troubled mind remain closed. The narrator is also decidedly neutral and uncensorious in the general treatment of this focal character. To proponents of the tradition represented by the objects T. destroys, this child seems the very essence of evil. Greene, however, offers nothing to suggest anything other than a mysterious amorality that is cold, implacable, and generally inexplicable, although he piques curiosity with oblique references to T’s background and mental state. When Old Misery suddenly returns home and threatens the enterprise, T. protests this unforeseen complication “with the fury of the child he had never been.” Earlier, T., who generally looks down when he speaks, proposes the destruction of the house to the incredulous boys with “raised eyes, as grey and disturbed as the drab August day.”
Prior to T’s membership in the gang, its members’ preoccupation was with adolescent mischief, such as stealing free rides on public transportation. T., however, is decidedly unchildlike and becomes the instrument that destroys not only the house but the group’s collective innocence. The pleasures of their previous childhood preoccupations are forever lost to them. T. has taken them abruptly from innocence to experience, summarily depriving them of a gradual but...
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Modernist Period in English Literature The modernist period in English literature began in 1914 with the onset of World War I and extended through 1965. It is a literary period that reflects the nation’s wartime experiences (World War I and World War II), the emerging British talent of the 1920s, and the economic depression of the 1930s. Toward the end of the period, literature and art demonstrate the nation’s growing uncertainty, which became especially pronounced after World War II; this uncertainty would give way to hostility and protest in the postmodernist period.
During the early years of the modernist period, the foremost fiction writers were E. M. Forster Joseph Conrad Ford Madox Ford Virginia Woolf and Somerset Maugham. One of the major accomplishments of this period was the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses, a work that continues to be respected as a masterpiece of twentieth-century literature. In the 1920s and 1930s, the novels of D. H. Lawrence and Evelyn Waugh were harshly critical of modern society, expressing an attitude shared by many English men and women...
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Greene demonstrates the instability of postwar England in his presentation of opposing forces throughout ‘‘The Destructors.’’ The tension created by these forces reflects a society that has survived trauma but is deeply changed by it. Social dynamics are undergoing change, and the youth no longer feel connected to the past, as previous generations did. Greene’s writing often incorporates paradoxes, and in this story, paradoxes are used to communicate the atmosphere of the community in which the Wormsley Common gang functions.
Greene’s use of paradox in the story is evident in T.’s attitudes toward Mr. Thomas. On the one hand, he sets about destroying his house, treating him disrespectfully, and regarding him with suspicion. At the same time, however, T. does not hate him. His intention to destroy Mr. Thomas’s life is not personal but is rooted in his desire to get rid of the last vestige of traditional beauty in the war-torn landscape. Although his destructive behavior is not personal, the consequences are deeply personal for the old man, but T. is unable to consider such consequences. A related paradox in the story is when T. takes Mr. Thomas’s seventy one-pound notes, but not for personal gain. Instead, he takes them only to burn them. In other words, T. takes items that are inherently valuable, but he has no interest in making use of that value. T.’s attitude toward Mr. Thomas’s house is paradoxical,...
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Compare and Contrast
1950s: Since its election victories of 1945, the Labour Party is working on bringing certain industries under government control. Based on socialist principles, the Labour Party’s objectives are to distribute resources evenly among English citizens and to blur the lines of social class. Its influence is on the decline, however, since the Conservative Party reduced the Labour Party’s majority in parliament in the 1950 elections.
Today: After two Conservative prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher and John Majors, Labour Party leader Tony Blair is now England’s prime minister. English voters seem to vote in cycles, much as American voters tend to alternate over time between Democratic and Republican leadership.
1950s: The emergence of rock and roll music in the United States leads to the style’s popularity around the world. Teenagers are drawn to its energy and spirit of rebellion. Having endured the war, many teenagers in England are uncertain and cynical, and rock and roll music appeals to their spirit of defiance and to their drive to create a new identity.
Today: Rock and roll music has evolved into a variety of types, including pop, alternative rock, punk rock, heavy metal, and funk. England’s contributions to rock and its descendants are considerable. Besides the many contemporary English bands enjoying worldwide success (including Radiohead, Oasis, Dead...
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Topics for Further Study
Compare the Wormsley Common gang with modern American gangs. Consider factors like membership, recruitment, enemies, activities, and motivations. What similarities did you find? Present your findings in a collage made up of drawings, photos, maps, headlines, text, and anything else that is appropriate.
Choose a European country (not England) and research what its young people were like after World War II. Prepare a lecture to deliver to a group of high school freshmen in which you present your findings and encourage the students to imagine how they would react in similar circumstances.
At the end of World War II the Allied Powers emerged victorious. The Allies included twentyeight countries, but the central nations were Great Britain, the United States France and Russia. Explore art (paintings, sculptures, photography, etc.) created during this period in these nations to see what themes, feelings, and moods are expressed. Do you find that the art celebrates the Allied victory or that it reflects the devastation of war? Compile reproductions of the works you find most compelling and make an exhibit demonstrating how art reflects the experiences of nations.
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‘‘The Destructors,’’ along with two of Greene’s other short stories (‘‘The Basement Room’’ and ‘‘Under the Garden’’), was adapted as a television series in England in 1975 by Thames Television. The series included thirteen episodes.
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What Do I Read Next?
William Golding’s 1954 The Lord of the Flies is about a group of boys stranded on an island who revert to a primitive state as they govern themselves to survive. The book explores themes of innocence, human nature, and the human capacity for cruelty. This book was published the same year as ‘‘The Destructors’’ and is also written by a British author.
Greene’s The Heart of the Matter (1948) is the story of Major Scobie, a high-ranking Catholic police officer whose conscience leads him to marital troubles, religious struggles, and career problems. Based on Greene’s experiences while working for the British government during World War II this novel was very popular with American readers at the time of publication.
Edited by Philip Stratford, The Portable Graham Greene (1994) is a valuable resource for both new readers and long-standing admirers of Greene’s work. It includes two complete novels, excerpts from ten others, short stories, essays, travel writing selections, and memoir excerpts, in addition to a thorough introduction and bibliography.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
DeVitis, A. A., ‘‘Graham Greene,’’ in Twayne’s English Authors Series Online, G. K. Hall and Co., 1999.
‘‘Graham Greene,’’ in Newsmakers 1991, Gale Research, 1991.
Jones, Richard, ‘‘The Improbable Spy,’’ in Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 55, No. 2, Spring 1979, pp. 338–49.
McCartney, Jesse F., ‘‘Politics in Graham Greene’s ‘The Destructors,’’’ in Southern Humanities Review, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1978, pp. 31–41.
Miller, R. H., ‘‘Short Stories, Plays, Essays,’’ in Understanding Graham Greene, University of South Carolina Press, 1990, pp. 149–76.
Nehring, Neil, ‘‘Graham Greene,’’ in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 162: British Short-Fiction Writers, 1915–1945, Gale Research, 1996, pp. 125–39.
Spurling, John, Graham Greene, Methuen, 1983, pp. 71–75.
Waugh, Evelyn, ‘‘Felix Culpa?,’’ in Commonweal, Vol. 48, No. 14, July 16, 1948, pp. 322–25.
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