Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The reader’s first impression of “The Destructors” is that the story is a simple chronicle of senseless violence and wanton destruction carried out by thoughtless, unprincipled adolescents. Graham Greene’s story, however, is actually a metaphor for class struggle in English society in the decade following World War II. The tension between working-class Britain and the upper-middle-class society that had absorbed all but the last vestiges of the nobility had surfaced dramatically in the years following the previous world war. These years were marked by repeated challenges, both social and political, to the established order of an empire in decline. Old Misery’s house somehow survived the battering of a second great war, as did the monarchy and the entrenched class sensibility of British society. The house, however, is considerably weakened, held in place by wooden struts that brace the outside walls. In its fragile state, it needs support, as does the political and social structure that it represents. It cannot stand as it once did, independent with the formidable strength of the British Empire. The interior, although a trove of revered artifacts of civilized European culture, nevertheless represents a tradition that is increasingly meaningless to the lower classes.
The members of the Wormsley Common Gang—who significantly are twelve in number, like the apostles of the New Testament—are forces of change, agents subconsciously representing...
(The entire section is 479 words.)
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The boys in ‘‘The Destructors’’ are in their teens, which is the age at which childish innocence is gradually left behind in favor of worldliness and sophistication. For the boys in the story, however, their innocence is already gone, replaced by cynicism, selfishness, and rebelliousness. When Mr. Thomas arrives home early, T. is surprised because the old man had told him he would be gone longer. Greene writes, ‘‘He protested with the fury of the child he had never been.’’ Not only have these boys grown up during the war years, they live in an environment that serves as a constant reminder of that harrowing experience. They meet in a parking lot near an area that was destroyed by bombs during the war, and they are seemingly unaffected by it because it is such a normal part of their life. In reality, the war years have claimed their youthful innocence, leaving them disillusioned and determined to create their own world order, but all they really know is destruction.
Part of innocence is surrender to the imagination. In ‘‘The Destructors,’’ however, imagination takes an ugly turn. T. uses his imagination to devise the plan to destroy Mr. Thomas’s house. Greene writes that the boys ‘‘worked with the seriousness of creators—and destruction after all is a form of creation. A kind of imagination had seen this house as it had now become.’’ The imagination used to plot the demise of the house is...
(The entire section is 590 words.)