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“The Destructors” by Graham Greene

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    Markus Zusak, the author of The Book Thief, once wrote, “Together, they would watch everything that was so carefully planned collapse, and they would smile at the beauty of destruction.” During World War II, London was going through a time of disaster and catastrophe due to the Nazi-Germans. The outcome of the Blitz left millions of people homeless and devastated fearing life. The crumbling of society left everyone awestruck, not knowing what their future was holding in store for them. Continuous bombing and raids took place allowing no hint of peace to pass through the city.

    The Destructors by Graham Greene is a short story about how the young generations’ mentality and lives changed after the Blitz took place. A gang of boys come together with the intention to destroy an old man’s house. The action of the gang alludes to the Blitz, where the boys learnt the ways of violence and destruction. Despite the fact that they are teenagers, all their minds are young and they easily get influenced. It is like a virus spreading through their brains. People lose their hopes, dreams, and beliefs because fear spreads throughout the whole city; nothing gave them any sort of motivation or faith.

    The “Wormsley Common gang” (Greene 160) is a group of boys who find joy in hitching rides, committing petty theft, and vandalizing which contributed to the destruction of society. Meeting in an abandoned parking lot is their daily recreational spot. One day, group member Trevor, also known as T, “astonished them all,” (Greene 161) since firstly he arrives late and then he decides to take things to a whole new level. Their master plan is to meticulously and very cautiously destroy an old man’s house and life. Trevor says, “We’ll pull it down. We’ll destroy it.” (Greene 163)

    They hold no grudge against him, T just poses the idea and the rest follow. Trevor believes, “All this hate and love, it’s soft, its hooey. There’s only things,” (Greene 166) therefore it would be no fun in destroying Mr. Thomas’s house if he hated him. Dropping from a middle class social rank in society, his father a well reputed architect, Trevor is a boy who lost everything in his life due to the war. This may have been the trigger that gives him the idea to destroy this old man’s home along with his life. Therefore, the mind of the young generation has been corrupted by the ways of war.

    Mr. Thomas is an old, lonely man who lives in a, “crippled house” (Greene 161) amongst barren land which represents himself because he stands alone in the belief that there is hope still surviving. Enduring the Blitz with minor damages this house symbolizes Trevor’s previous life which in turn makes Trevor reminisce on all that he lost due to the war, as a bystander. This house is a sign of hope and a reminder to the people and himself that they can make it through this horrible disastrous time of destruction. Mr. Thomas is an optimistic man and does not believe to see the malicious side in people. He once offered the boys chocolate and with negative thoughts they said to each other, “It’s a bribe” (Greene 161)

    The house being a symbol of Trevor’s previous life seems to be the main factor that makes him destroy it. It seems to be a reminder to him that a house is something he once used to live in but now does not even have one. Following through with their plan, when they finally get in the house to start the phase of demolition, they find various things. At one point seventy pounds is found under the mattress, but with a snide remark Trevor says, “We aren’t thieves…We’ll burn them, one by one.” (Greene 166) This is a sign of integrity but is then overpowered with a psychotic nature. His goal must be to put this man at par with the rest of the population, and destroy his life along with anything he hoped the future would be like.

    Trevor could pass as a sadist and or a psychopath but seems to have somewhat of a sincere mentality. He does not seem to be at any mutual spot but at two ends of an insanity spectrum. This is reflected due to the things he does, for example, he is not a thief but he burns the money they find instead; he also locks Mr. Thomas back in the outhouse but provides him with blankets and food. Up to some limit this is mockery. Trevor knew about the historical significance of Mr. Thomas’s house and how it is designed by Christopher Wren, but he still overlooks that fact and decides to destroy it. He presents his idea to the gang by saying, “We’d be like worms, don’t you see, in an apple. When we came out again there’d be nothing there, no staircase, no panels, nothing but just walls, and then we’d make the walls fall down – somehow.”

    He must have the mindset that all nice things do not last forever. Trevor is a silent but violent type of guy whose mind works in mischievous ways. Taking the role of leader, he seems to do well with the job but still does have some flaws. His relationship with the rest of the boys is not a deep friendship but a use and throws type of relationship. For example, he orders the boys around by telling them to bring, “A real saw. Not a child’s saw.” (Greene 164) Though the people of London are going through a tough time under renovation, Trevor is just piling onto the heap of destroyed homes and buildings.

    The dreams of people are also crushed following the aftermath of the Blitz. It almost seems like Trevor is taking revenge for two reasons: firstly, for losing everything he had in his life, and secondly, for the repercussion of the Blitz. Therefore, his dreams have been shattered along with others in society. The war did not only break people’s homes, but their entire lives and plans for the future.

    For example, Mike’s parents have dreams for the future. Mike is encouraged to go to church and come home on time for meals. With the little that they have they are trying to make the most out of it instead of making matters worse. In spite of the fact that Mike has hope full parents he takes every chance even if, “His mother felt ill, his father was tired after Saturday night, and he was told to go to church alone with many warnings of what would happen if he strayed.” (Greene 164) He does not seem to care about anything else but his life in the gang. Dreams have already been shattered and with the attitude and behavior of the young generation, no one seems to be able to fulfill their dreams and desires.

    All in all, due to war, people’s hopes, dreams and beliefs have completely been destroyed leaving lives shattered. The Destructors by Graham Greene is a short story about how war can change the lives of not only one but a whole society. Therefore, the reflection of the war had not only destroyed the society physically but emotionally as well. At the end of the day there was a certain limit to the destruction cause by the Nazi-Germans. It later on evolved into destruction by the people of London itself.

    Works Cited

    1. “Growing up in the Blitz.” Portcities London. National Maritime Mission, n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2012.
    2. The University of Cambridge International Examinations Anthology of Stories in English. “Stories of Ourselves.” University of Cambridge. Cambridge Press. 2008-2009.
    3.  Zusak Markus. “Quotes About Destruction.” (75 Quotes). Good Reads, 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2012.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

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    How is The Destructors ironic?
    The narrative tells us that "they worked with the seriousness of creators" which is ironic because the boys are doing the very opposite of creating; they are destroying, being destructive of anything beautiful that they don't have themselves. They are destroying someone's home, someone's life.
    What does the house symbolize in The Destructors?
    In Graham Greene's “The Destructors,” Mr. Thomas's house symbolizes England after World War II. First of all, the structure of the house, known as the “Old Misery's,” represents the past glory of England. The elaborateness of the house is symbolic of the old class structure.
    What is the message of The Destructors?
    “The Destructors” focuses particularly on the clash between the pre-war and post-war generations in their relationships to money and material possessions. Perhaps in part because the boys of the gang have grown up during a time of shortage, they have little respect for money or things.
    What is the plot of The Destructors?
    Plot. Set in the mid-1950s, the story is about the "Wormsley Common Gang", a boys' gang named after the place where they live. The protagonist Trevor, or "T.", devises a plan to destroy a beautiful two-hundred-year-old house that survived The Blitz.

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