The Destructors – Graham Greene

About the Author
The author Graham Greene was born in England in 1904. He was educated in Oxford. While at college he became interested in Marxist Socialism. Just before his marriage to Vivien Browning, he converted to Catholicism which was a great influence in his life and works though the author himself did not consider it a big literary influence. During WW II, he did intelligence work for Britain in parts of West Africa. This experience finds echoes in many of his works. Though he did not win a Nobel Prize despite being considered for it, he was an influential writer of the twentieth century.
The setting for the story is the Wormsley area of London where most of the buildings had suffered damage during the last bit of the Blitzkrieg during the war. London had seen extensive damage and few of the old buildings had escaped damage or destruction. Rebuilding London took quite a while and even in mid ‘50s where this story is set, one could have seen areas with no rebuilding or repairs in progress.

Blackie is the head of the Wormsley Common Gang before T takes over. He is referred to in the story as good leader who wants to keep the gang together. He looks on the upper class with suspicion. Blackie’s plans for the day consist of simple things like stealing free rides on the bus. When he is ousted as leader as leader by the superior T., he feels betrayed and considers quitting the gang. Then he calculates that if the gang is able to carry off T’s plan to destroy Old Misery’s house, he wants to be part of the action and get a slice of the fame that will come their way. Once he accepts T.’s leadership, he is fully committed and supports T. even when his leadership is in question.
Mike, the youngest member of the gang is nine years old. He is gullible and easily surprised and when that happens, his mouth falls open. He is not yet as amoral as the others but is going there as he is easily led.
The driver appears only at the very end when unwittingly he pulls down Old Misery’s house when he drives away with the car attached to the struts that support the house. Though initially confused by what has happened he cannot help laughing uncontrollably as he considers it “funny”. Thomas has lost his “beautiful house” but the driver just laughs.
The new leader of the Wormsley Common Gang is Trevor or T. as he is called by the gang who prefer this to his upper class name. He is fifteen years old and has been a member of the gang for not long when he takes over the leadership of the gang in a bloodless coup. His origins are upper class with a father who was an architect and a mother who is a snob. The gang had always felt there was something special in his silence and his intensity. He awes them with his meticulous plans to bring down Old Misery’s house as this is way beyond anything which they have attempted till now.
Mr. Thomas
Mr. Thomas called Old Misery by the gang lives in one of the few houses still standing near the car park. He was an architect and builder. He loves his house and wants the boys to respect his property but also let them use the toilet outside; so he is no ogre. He believes in the innocence of children and offers them chocolates. He does it as a kind gesture and would have been shocked to know that they viewed it with suspicion. Naively, he shows T. around little knowing T. will betray his trust. It is only at the end he realizes that he is dealing with criminals.
Themes (major and minor)
Several themes exist side by side in the destructors – there is loss of innocence, shifting of power and man’s innate destructive or anarchist nature set free by a desensitizing war.
Loss of Innocence
Teenage is a transition period when the innocence of childhood is replaced by rebellion, cynicism and selfishness. For the Wormsley gang all these have come before time. They do not believe goodness can exist in a person so they view Mr. Thomas offer of chocolates with suspicion. To prove that they cannot be bribed they bounce balls on his wall all day. Growing up during the war years and seeing destruction and deprivation all around, the houses around serve as constant reminders of that terrible experience. They now want to create their own world order, but know only to use destruction as a tool.
Shifting of Power
The Destructors concerns in part with shifting power. Blackie is the gang leader and he is a good one. With superior intelligence, T. takes over in a fast coup and the activities of the gang change dramatically. T. plans to destroy one of the few houses left untouched by war though in his own words, it is “beautiful”. Everyone is aware that the level organization in the gang has scaled up and planning is meticulous. The gang now has the power to change social order and intimidate people.
The Wormsley Common Gang is a group of young teenagers who indulge in relatively harmless pranks. It is taken over by T. who thinks big. He plans to destroy entirely a beautiful house left untouched by war that belongs to Mr. Thomas, a harmless old man. They do not plan to steal anything. They succeed in their plans leaving Mr. Thomas bewildered about his loss.

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Blackie is the leader of the Wormsley Common Gang. T. is a new entrant who does not speak much. They plan harmless pranks until T. put forward an audacious plan to destroy the “beautiful house” that stands close by belonging to Mr. Thomas. The gang takes up the challenge and Blackie loses his leadership. T. acknowledges that it is beautiful nevertheless plans its destruction with coldblooded efficiency. He assigns tasks and expects cooperation. Mr. Thomas is expected to be away for two days so the coast is clear. While the wrecking is going on, he comes back unexpectedly. T. is momentarily fazed but gathers his wits and imprisons Mr. Thomas in the outside bathroom. All night the boys work connecting a parked lorry to the struts supporting the house. In the morning when lorry driver drives away, it brings down the whole structure. When Mr. Thomas is released from his prison, he is bewildered to find his house a heap of rubble.
Greene depicts the fast changing social order in postwar England. The young have no connection to the past and do not respect the old. They do not recognize things that have intrinsic value like currency which T. burns as a celebration. They destroy the house not because they hate Mr. Thomas but because the house is beautiful and they don’t appreciate beauty. Greene deals in paradoxes. The boys are only teenagers but behave like criminals, the driver who plays the final act in the destruction laughs to see what he has done.
The whole story can be read as allegory about changing authority in the world. The young wield power and the elderly have their way of life threatened. At another level it is an allegory about power and its corrupting influence. As soon as T. takes over, he makes changes and expects others to follow unquestioningly.
Important vocabulary and expression
T.’s philosophy seems to be summed up in these words, “”All this hate and love, its soft and hooey. There’s only things, Blackie.” T. is completely amoral. When they are done with the house, he says there will be nothing left to pinch. The title The Destructors seem to be a play on the word “constructors”.
Literary devices used with examples
Paradox is a literary device used by Greene in The Destructors. T. says that Mr. Thomas’ house is beautiful but plans to destroy it. He says he does not “hate” Mr. Thomas but destroys his house and savings. The driver has unwittingly pulled the house down but only laughs and says he finds it “funny”.

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