Literary Essay Destructors

Brief Biography of Graham Greene

Henry Graham Greene was born into a large and influential family living in the south of England. He lived on the campus of the boarding school where his father taught and then later became headmaster. He studied at Oxford and then worked as a journalist, at the same time trying his hand at writing fiction. He met his future wife Vivian when she wrote him a letter to correct a mistake he had made in describing Catholicism; he converted to Catholicism in 1926 and married Vivien the next year. The couple never divorced, but separated in 1947, and Greene carried on many affairs from which he drew inspiration for his writing. Greene was estranged from his wife and two children for many years. Greene travelled the world, occasionally working as a spy for the British secret service, writing as a freelance journalist and essayist, while also collecting material for the many thrillers that he wrote in addition to more traditional novels. He travelled to countries in the throes of war and revolution and refused to settle down until he became too old to travel.

Historical Context of The Destructors

“The Destructors” is set in the decade after the end of the Second World War, when English society was in a state of upheaval following the destruction unleashed by the war. During the war, British cities were disfigured by bombs, hundreds of thousands of British soldiers were killed or maimed, and the economic resources of the nation were taxed to the breaking point. Londoners spent many fearful nights hiding in bomb shelters, uncertain whether their homes would survive the latest round of a German bombing campaign that went on for eight months. This experience took a particularly harsh toll on the urban working class, who could not evacuate to large houses in the countryside like the rich and initially had few options for places to shelter. After the war was won in 1945, the political climate in the country shifted. In 1945 the Labour Party won control of the British parliament for the first time, and went on to radically reshape British institutions in the interests of the working class and poor. Although the party was voted out of power in 1951, its social reforms stuck.

Other Books Related to The Destructors

Graham Greene was a prolific letter writer, and maintained close friendships with some of the most influential writers of his time. Two of the writers who most influenced him were T. S. Eliot, author of The Waste Land (1921), and Herbert Read. Both wrote poetry and critical essays that addressed the calamity of the First World War and art’s role in modern society. Greene was also friendly with Evelyn Waugh, a fellow Catholic writer who mainly wrote novels about the social relations among the upper class. Finally, Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962) seems to take something from the literary legacy of “The Destructors,” although it sets the horrifying (yet art-loving) rebellious adolescents it portrays in a dystopic near-future.

Key Facts about The Destructors

  • Full Title: “The Destructors”
  • When Written: 1954
  • When Published: 1954, first in the magazine Picture Post and then in the story collection Twenty-One Stories.
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: short story
  • Setting: London in the 1950s
  • Climax: Mr. Thomas is returning to the house and T. must convince the other boys to bring the destruction of the house to completion.
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for The Destructors

The Destructors

  • Length: 645 words (1.8 double-spaced pages)
  • Rating: Excellent
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The gang members in Graham Greene’s “The Destructors” are catastrophic young children and teenagers who are unfortunately being greatly affected by their surroundings. Placed in wartime London, their town is in rubble from bombings. Peer pressure is no help when a destructive surrounding and vulnerable ages are strongly influencing the instinctive human behavior of the members, which causes many of their horrific actions.
The characters of Greene’s short story are different in their own way. Mike is a childish young boy “at the age of nine [who] was surprised by everything” (50). Trevor, better known as T, comes off to be one of the nicer and more hushed boys in ‘the gang’. “…there were possibilities about his brooding silence that all recognised” (50). Blackie was the gang member who worried that T. was too classy for the gang. “…he was anxious to retain T. in the gang if he could. It was the word ‘beautiful’ that worried him- that belonged to a class world…” (53). However, as the story progresses it comes to be known that Blackie has taken T to be something he is not.
The gang meeting “every morning in an impromptu car-park, the site of the last bomb of the first blitz” has a great impact on their actions. The destruction of the town around them leads T to propose the destruction of a neighboring house which belonged to a man known as Old Misery. Blackie begins to appear to be the more civil of the two boys when he argues against T’s proposition saying “We’d go to jug” and “We wouldn’t have time” (53). Greene even writes “Blackie said uneasily, ‘It’s proposed that tomorrow and Monday we destroy Old Misery’s house’” (53). When the gang votes to follow through with the destruction, Blackie even contemplates giving up his leadership. “He thought of going home, of never returning…” (54). However, he gave into the pressure of wanting to belong to this gang and hold onto his leadership. After all, he had nowhere else to go. “Driven by the pure, simple and altruistic ambition of fame for the gang, Blackie came back to where T. stood in the shadow of Misery’s wall” (54). Not only does the rubble influence the children to act out, but it also desensitizes them, along with the residents of the town. This is shown very clearly when T. replies “Of course I don’t hate him… there’d be no fun if I hated him… all this hate and love… it’s soft, it’s hooey.

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There’s only things, Blackie” (56) when asked if he hated Old Misery. Desensitization is shown one last time at the end of the story when a passer-by, known as the driver, looks at the remains of the house and declares “There’s nothing personal, but you got to admit it’s funny” (61).
It seems as if they ruined this home out of anger and jealousy because it is something they wish they had. It is as if they resented the beauty of the house that T described. The gang members seem as if they have no home life. They do nothing but meet in a car lot and plan ways to scam people, destroy property and other things of the sort. T’s description seemed to be that of envy. He says “It’s a beautiful house”, “It’s got a staircase two hundred years old like a corkscrew. Nothing holds it up”, “There’s paneling” (52). Then he goes on to say “We’ll pull it down… we’ll destroy it” (53). This shows he wanted to tear down this home because he resented it.
War and peer pressure have great impacts on the lives of many. If these children, easily influenced at such a young age, had of been placed in a different location, perhaps with a different home life, they likely would have turned out to be much less cataclysmic.




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