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The Destructors Notes

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Graham Greene's ''The Destructors'' was first published in two parts in Picture Post on July 24 and 31, 1954. Later that year, the story appeared in a collection entitled Twenty-One Stories. Because Greene arranged the stories in reverse chronological order, ''The Destructors'' was the first story in the collection.

''The Destructors'' disturbed its readers, yet it remains one of Greene's most anthologized short stories. Despite its setting in post-World War II England, the story is universal in its reflection of human nature. The story contains many of Greene's hallmarks, most importantly that of placing people who have the capacity for good and evil in situations where they must make a choice between the two. The boys in ''The Destructors'' are still young enough to be innocent, yet they make cruel and selfish choices. This story is also a link to Greene's earliest fiction in which he often portrayed young people being initiated into the adult world. Commenting on this story and three others (''A Chance for Mr. Lever,'' ''Under the Garden,'' and ''Cheap in August''), Greene declared that he was completely satisfied and had never written anything better.


Plot Summary

"The Destructors" is about a group of teenage boys who call themselves the Wormsley Common gang, after the area where they live. They meet every day in a parking lot near a part of town that was bombed during World War II. Almost everything in this area is destroyed although one house stands with minimal damage. This house is owned by Mr. Thomas (whom the boys call Old Misery), an old man who lives alone. One day, the gang's leader, Blackie, suggests that they spend the day sneaking free bus rides. T. (whose full name is Trevor) has another idea. He has been inside Mr. Thomas's house and suggests that the boys take advantage of the old man's upcoming two-day absence to demolish the house from the inside. T. becomes the gang's new leader. When the boys meet at the appointed time the next morning, T. has already organized his directions for the boys to demolish the house. By the end of the day, the house is in shambles: the floors are torn up, the fixtures are smashed, the electrical cords are all cut, and doors are destroyed. After everyone but Blackie has left, T. shows him "something special," Mr. Thomas's savings of seventy one-pound notes. T. explains that he and Blackie will burn the notes one at a time to celebrate. After they are finished, they go home. The next day, the boys meet again at the house to complete the destruction. They take out the staircase, demolish the inner layers of wall, knock down the floors (it is a multi-story house), and flood what is left. Before they are finished, one of the boys runs in and announces that Mr. Thomas is on his way home. Mr. Thomas was not expected until the next morning, so T. locks him in the outhouse until morning. Not wanting to physically hurt the old man, the boys give him a blanket and food. The next morning, a driver starts up his truck, and as he pulls out of the parking lot adjacent to the house, he hears crashing. At first he is confused, but then he realizes that his truck was tied to a support beam of the gutted house, bringing it down. The driver lets Mr. Thomas out of the outhouse, and although the old man is devastated, the driver cannot stop laughing. He explains that it is not personal, but he thinks it is funny.



Before T. becomes the leader of the Wormsley Common gang, Blackie is its head. He is described as a just leader who is not jealous and wants to keep the group intact. He also distrusts anything having to do with the upper class. As the gang's leader, Blackie suggests such activities as seeing how many free bus rides they can sneak and breaking into Old Misery's house without stealing anything. When the gang sides with T. instead of Blackie, Blackie initially feels betrayed and privately sulks. He then decides that if the gang is going to succeed in the feat of destroying the house, he wants to be a part of it for the fame. Once he rejoins the group, he is fully committed to T.'s leadership and to contributing to the destruction of the house. In fact, when the gang's confidence in T.'s leadership falters, Blackie pulls the group back together. This demonstrates that the group as a whole is more important to him than the personal glory of being the leader.


At the end of the story, an unsuspecting driver finally brings down the house. The driver's truck is tied to the gutted house so that when he pulls out of the adjacent parking lot, the entire house crumbles. At first, the driver is astonished and confused, but once he realizes what has happened, he responds with a fit of laughter. Even when Mr. Thomas faces him and asks him how he can laugh, the driver is unable to control himself.


Joe is a member of the Wormsley Common gang. He is simply described as a "fat boy," and he is the first to vote in favor of T.'s plan to destroy the house.


A member of the Wormsley Common gang, Mike is the only one who is surprised when T. becomes the leader. Mike has always been easily surprised and gullible; when he was nine, he believed someone who told him that if he did not keep his mouth shut, he would get a frog in it.


Summers is the only member of the gang who is called by his last name. He is a thin boy who is a follower. When, on the second day, he complains that the destruction of the house is too much like work, he is easily talked into staying and helping.


Trevor, who goes by T., is the new leader of the Wormsley Common gang. He is fifteen years old and has gray eyes. He is a member of the gang all summer before taking leadership in August, when he suggests a dramatic change in the gang's activities. His father, an architect, has recently lost social ranking, and his mother has an air of snobbery about her. If T. had seemed like an easy target to the boys, they would have teased him for these things in the beginning. T. initially says very little when the gang meets, but as he positions himself to take leadership, he talks more. He intrigues the gang with his plan to pull down Mr. Thomas' house, a feat unparalleled in the gang's history. The unprecedented plan, coupled with the air of intrigue surrounding T., makes the boys in the gang eager



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