We have been working on War Poetry, a literary movement that criticized WWI.
Now, we are going to read a story: THE DESTRUCTORS by G. Greene which deals with the results of WWII in Britain.
The story begins by introducing us to the Wormsley Common Gang, a group of boys ranging from nine to fifteen years of age, who live in a tough area of London and spend their summer holiday pulling pranks. They gather daily in an empty lot created when bombs dropped on England during World War 2 destroyed the houses that used to stand there. One beautiful old house still stands on the edge of the lot, although it was damaged during the war and is propped up by wooden struts. This house is owned by Mr. Thomas, an elderly, solitary man who used to be a builder and a decorator, and whom the boys derisively call “Old Misery.” The bombing destroyed the house’s plumbing, so Mr. Thomas uses an outdoor lavatory.
The leader of the gang is a boy named Blackie who concerns himself with fairness and with the gang’s reputation. A boy named Trevor, who comes from a more affluent background, but whose parents have fallen on hard times, is the gang’s newest member. Usually the boys would make fun of the name Trevor, but the menacing way he carries himself inspires their respect. They call the new boy “T.” and allow him to enter the group without a humiliating ritual induction. Other members of the group include the young and easily surprised Mike, and the more practical and outspoken Summers. (summary from https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-destructors/summary)
Take a look at this presentation
Comprehension questions (pair work)
- The Wormsley Common Gang. Comment on membership, recruitment, enemies, activities, and motivations. How about gangs today?
- What do you see as the central theme of this story? Remember: a theme is not simply a subject like “love”. It is a fuller expression of what an author is trying to suggest about this subject. Write a paragraph explaining your interpretation of this story’s theme.
- Identify three important conflicts present in the story. Explain what exactly is causing the problem—and whether they are internal or external in nature. Finally, explain which of these conflicts seems to the central problem.
- Draw an image of Mr. Thomas’ house. Now explain the gang’s motivation to destroy the house by webbing out points and quotations to each of the ideas below:
- the age and beauty of the house
- the gang’s usual pranks around London
- what has occurred in the recent past with T’s parents
- Blackie’s reaction to the word “beautiful”
- The boys’ reaction to Mr. Thomas’ gift of chocolate
- Summers’ reaction to the word “please”
- the burning of the banknotes
- their consideration for Old Misery
- Of what significance is the setting of this story in blitzed London? Does the story have anything to say about the consequences of war? About the causes of war?
- Address the following quotation in the story by explaining its context and overall significance to the story:
“Streaks of light came in through the closed shutters where they worked with the seriousness of creators—and destruction after all is a form of creation. A kind of imagination had seen this house as it had now become.”
- Describe what happens in the resolution of the story. Why might Graham Greene have ended the story in this ironic manner?
- On the surface this is a story of action, suspense, and adventure. At a deeper level it is about delinquency, war, and the hidden forces which motivate our actions. Do you agree? Give reasons for your answer.
- Research a definition of the philosophy of nihilism. How might the Wormsley Common Gang’s actions in the story demonstrate a kind of nihilism?
Choose a question to write an essay
- The setting for this story is London, nine years after the city survived a series of bombing attacks during WWⅡ. How does this setting contribute to the development of the story?
- “The Destructors” written by Graham Greene is set in London nine years after the end of World War II. People survived from “The Blitz”. The Blitz “was Nazi Germany’s sustained aerial bombing campaign against Britain in World War Two.”(The Blitz) Everything was in chaos, people lost their home, slept in the underground station and lost their hope for the future. Comment closely on this.
- Graham Greene’s portrayal of human nature, in “The Destructors,” conveys the idea that people have the instinctive ability to distinguish, and make a conscience choice, between what they believe to be good and evil. This message is clearly projected by the characters and their actions: that children born to a traumatized society will grow rebellious. Comment closely on this.