Greene is considered one of the most important writers of his generation although most of the criticism of his work focuses on his novels. Still, there are similarities between his novels and his short stories, such as his sympathetic portrayal of flawed characters, the degradation of the individual in the modern world, the need for moral compromise in certain situations, and the harsh realities of violence and cruelty. Greene’s writing style is also consistent among his novels and shorter works. Renowned English writer Evelyn Waugh describes Greene’s writing style in Commonweal as ‘‘not a specifically literary style at all. The words are functional, devoid of sensuous attraction, of ancestry, and of independent life.’’ Perhaps this is why Richard Jones of Virginia Quarterly Review concluded that the key to Greene’s popularity is ‘‘probably his readability,’’ which attends to ‘‘the main business of holding the reader’s attention.’’ Waugh likens Greene’s style to that of the cinema, where the camera moves from one setting to another, settling on a character, surveying his or her surroundings, and so on. As a result, there is no direct connection made between the storyteller and the reader. Jones makes a similar observation: ‘‘[Greene] resorts to the tricks of the cinema—swift juxtaposition of scene, character, and tone—and is often, because of this, slick and ambiguous in his effects.’’ These techniques also apply to Greene’s short stories and are evident in ‘‘The Destructors.’’
‘The Destructors’ may be Greene’s best story and perhaps one of the finest in the language. It has all the qualities that have come to be expected in the short story: focus, compression, pace, and that element of surprise, that epiphany that brings one to recognizing a powerful truth. It works as both parable and allegory, parable in the sense that it is a narrative in a relatively contemporaneous setting that makes a clear moral point, allegorical in the sense that it ‘signifies’ on several levels.
Critics often comment on the story within the historical context of the postwar era in England. Miller observes that the story reflects conditions in England in the postwar years when the gradual recovery ushered in unexpected shifts in social and political dynamics. Many communities (like the one in the story) lay in ruins, and once Mr. Thomas’s house is destroyed, Miller writes, ‘‘the landscape of Wormsley Common has rational consistency.’’ In Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography Volume Seven: Writers After World War II 1945–1960, Richard Hauer Costa observes:
By reversing every assumed value ‘The Destructors’ flips innocence [represented by the boys] into an...
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