The Destructors Questions and Answers
by Graham Greene

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Is "The Destructors" by Graham Greene more of a work of commercial or literary fiction?

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Brayan Effertz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This story combines both commercial and literary elements. The commercial, or popular elements are those which make for a compelling story, with vividly-drawn characters, a shocking central event, the tense build-up of conflict, and a strong sense of place. These are the aspects that are likely to appeal to most readers, who will buy the book to read the story – hence the term 'commercial' to describe this kind of writing. Greene wrote many stories and novels of this nature, featuring, among other things, gangsters, fugitives, doomed passions and conflicts. His ability to create strong, suspenseful plots also saw him venture successfully into cinema, providing the screenplay for two of the most celebrated British films of the immediate post-war period, The Third Man and The Fallen Idol (based on his short story ‘The Basement Room’).

However, Greene was not just a popular, commercial writer. His work is also literary, in the sense that it goes beyond surface meanings to reveal deeper truths about human nature and society. On the face of it, ‘The Destructors’ is simply about a gang of boys who set out to destroy a centuries-old house just for the sake of it, traumatising the house owner in the process. On another level, though, the story can be taken as a wider comment  on what was happening in Britain just after the second world war, a particularly grim time for the country with its economy ravaged, social displacements and bombed out streets in many of the big cities. Society appears fractured and the setting is bleak.

The story shows how the war adversely affected the boys; they have grown up in its immediate aftermath, in a time of austerity and hardship and the grim realities of conflict and destruction. As a result, they have known no beauty in their lives. When they do see something beautiful, like Mr Thomas’s house (which in spite of having suffered in the war-time bombings, retains its air of old-time elegance), they set out to destroy it so systematically that nothing of it will be left. They represent the new generation who care nothing for the traditional civilised ways of old England, as represented by Mr Thomas’s house, built in a bygone, more genteel era. The effects of two world wars have given birth to a new and grimmer society, as represented by the gang. The story can also be regarded as an allegory of the innate destructive tendencies of human nature in general and the failure of civilization to counteract  such tendencies (compare William Golding’s Lord of the Flies).

 The story, then, is not just a tense, dramatic narrative, it also functions on a more sophisticated literary level in its exploration of psychological, social, and cultural realities. Its literary elements are at least as important as its more popular appeal; it can readily be approached on either level.  

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I tend to view Greene's work as an example of literary fiction .  The thematic implications of...

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