Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical 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 essential learning process. In this regard, T’s actions are presented as more the product of fate than malevolence.

The economy of description in character development is characteristic of Greene’s writing. Extensive graphic detail and character background are all but nonexistent, but there is enough to make the reader more than willing to supply the missing dimension.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

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 of the day. In the 1930s and 1940s, novelists such as Greene wrote traditional fiction that was well-crafted enough both to stand up to innovative fiction of the day and to gain a wide and loyal audience.


(The entire section is 482 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Greene demonstrates the instability of postwar England in his presentation of opposing forces throughout...

(The entire section is 631 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1950s: Since its election victories of 1945, the Labour Party is working on bringing certain industries under government...

(The entire section is 255 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Compare the Wormsley Common gang with modern American gangs. Consider factors like membership, recruitment, enemies, activities, and...

(The entire section is 183 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘The Destructors,’’ along with two of Greene’s other short stories (‘‘The Basement Room’’ and ‘‘Under the...

(The entire section is 35 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 169 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Costa, Richard Hauer, ‘‘Graham Greene,’’ in Concise Dictionary of British Literary

(The entire section is 304 words.)