The Destructors

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Mr. Thomas, or “Old Misery” Character Analysis

Mr. Thomas is an old man who worked as a decorator and builder when he was younger, before World War 2. He lives in a beautiful old house that survived the bombing of the war, and is deeply proud of it. He believes in the social fabric that existed before the war, in which order ruled according to a strict social hierarchy of class and privilege. He believes in this world view despite the fact that the world from which it came was destroyed by the war, and never understands the hostility which other character hold toward that old world. The boys call Mr. Thomas “Old Misery,” and indeed he seems like a sad and lonely figure. While he is too much of a miser to fix his plumbing, he does show generosity in once giving the boys chocolates (an action the boys mistrust as a possible bribe). Old Misery looks at the boys over his garden wall and reminisces on his long-gone boyhood, never realizing that the boys he fondly patronizes look upon him with derision. He is a pathetic figure, symbolizing a world that is too old and stuck in its ways to reinvent itself in the wake of destruction.

Mr. Thomas, or “Old Misery” Quotes in The Destructors

The The Destructors quotes below are all either spoken by Mr. Thomas, or “Old Misery” or refer to Mr. Thomas, or “Old Misery”. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Class and a Changing World Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Destructors published in 1993.
Part 2 Quotes

'Of course I don't hate him,' T. said. 'There'd be no fun if I hated him.' The last burning note illuminated his brooding face. 'All this hate and love,' he said,' it's soft, it’s hooey. There's only things, Blackie,' and he looked round the room crowded with the unfamiliar shadows of half things, broken things, former things. 'I’ll race you home, Blackie,' he said.

Related Characters: Trevor, or “T.” (speaker), Blackie, Mr. Thomas, or “Old Misery”
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Blackie and T. remain at Mr. Thomas’s house on the first day of destruction after the others leave. T. has Mr. Thomas’s savings and the two boys set about burning each bank note. Blackie probes T. and, wanting to understand T.’s motivation for destroying Mr. Thomas’s house, asks T. if he hates the old man. T. denies any personal dislike for Mr. Thomas and even denies that such emotional connections like hate and love are real. For T., burning the money is a celebratory act. Burning the money and looking around the room at all the things that the gang has already destroyed puts T. in an innocent and playful mood, and he challenges Blackie to race him home. This seems further to tie this act of adolescent rebellion to the unhappy fixation on material possessions that has (the story implies, but never shows) dominated T.’s home life since his parents’ loss of money and status.

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Part 3 Quotes

He said to the boy beside him, 'I'm not unreasonable. Been a boy myself. As long as things are done regular. I don't mind you playing round the place Saturday mornings. Sometimes I like company. Only it's got to be regular. One of you asks leave and I say Yes. Sometimes I'll say No. Won't feel like it. And you come in at the front door and out at the back. No garden walls.'

Related Characters: Mr. Thomas, or “Old Misery” (speaker), Trevor, or “T.”
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Thomas is being led by T. to the outdoor lavatory, where T. tells him one of the boys has gotten trapped. Although Mr. Thomas is indignant at the boys coming onto his property without permission, he maintains a firm but kind tone, in keeping with his code of behavior. This code sees those in the upper classes as superior and in charge of setting the rules, but it also requires that they show benevolence to those younger and lower class.

In the eyes of the reader, who knows how much control Mr. Thomas has already lost over what happens on his property, this speech is ridiculous. Mr. Thomas and the well-mannered, hierarchical code of behavior that he represents are utterly obsolete.

Mr. Thomas also seems to relate to the boys, recalling his own adolescence. This only serves to emphasize the distance the boys see between themselves and an old man like Mr. Thomas. To them, he has never been a boy, and they themselves will never be like him.

After a while it seemed to him that there were sounds in the silence – they were faint and came from the direction of his house. He stood up and peered through the ventilation-hole – between the cracks in one of the shutters he saw a light, not the light of a lamp, but the wavering light that a candle might give. Then he thought he heard the sound of hammering and scraping and chipping. He thought of burglars - perhaps they had employed the boy as a scout, but why should burglars engage in what sounded more and more like a stealthy form of carpentry?

Related Characters: Mr. Thomas, or “Old Misery”
Related Symbols: Mr. Thomas’s Lavatory, Sounds of Destruction
Page Number: 20-21
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Thomas’s out-of-date expectations for how people will act and how the world works have given the boys the means to trick and trap him in his outdoor lavatory. Now he is listening to the sounds coming from inside his house and trying to understand their significance. His professional background as a builder prepared him to hear the noises tools produce and interpret those noises are the sounds of something being created, never considering that they could also be used to destroy. This failure of the imagination is the result of his proud dedication to the traditional. He has no conception of why anyone might want to destroy a house, because he doesn’t share the deep resentment harbored among many in England towards the symbols of the past.

Part 4 Quotes

'I'm sorry,' the driver said, making heroic efforts, but when he remembered the sudden check of his lorry, the crash of bricks falling, he became convulsed again. One moment the house had stood there with such dignity between the bomb-sites like a man in a top hat, and then, bang, crash, there wasn't anything left - not anything. He said, 'I'm sorry. I can't help it. Mr. Thomas. There's nothing personal, but you got to admit it's funny.'

Related Characters: The lorry driver (speaker), Mr. Thomas, or “Old Misery”
Related Symbols: Top Hat, Sounds of Destruction
Page Number: 22-23
Explanation and Analysis:

The driver has just freed Mr. Thomas from the lavatory, and now Mr. Thomas is seeing what has become of his house for the first time. Mr. Thomas is furious that the driver is laughing at his misfortune. When the driver says his laughter “isn’t personal,” that suggests that, like T., he does not hate Mr. Thomas or want to be cruel to him. Instead, the symbolic power of the house is so strong that the thrill of seeing it destroyed is enough to make both T. and the lorry driver forget that this destruction will have grave consequences for Mr. Thomas.

The lorry driver’s laughter also shows that the idea to destroy the house does not only hold appeal for rebellious adolescents. As the comparison to a man in a top hat illustrates, the house is a symbol of the rigid and now obsolete class structure of England’s past. For the lorry driver, who comes from the lower class, this house’s destruction represents a process going on throughout post-war British society. The relationship between different British classes is being transformed, and British society is becoming more egalitarian. But before this new world can be created, the old one symbolized by houses like Mr. Thomas’s must be destroyed. In a sense, the lorry driver is part of an entire society that is going through a kind of adolescence.

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Mr. Thomas, or “Old Misery” Character Timeline in The Destructors

The timeline below shows where the character Mr. Thomas, or “Old Misery” appears in The Destructors. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
Class and a Changing World Theme Icon
Money and the Value of Things Theme Icon
Adolescence, Age, and Rebellion Theme Icon
This house is owned by Mr. Thomas , an elderly, solitary man who used to be a builder and decorator and whom... (full context)
Class and a Changing World Theme Icon
Codes of Behavior Theme Icon
Another day Old Misery sees three of the boys on the common and gives them some chocolates, although he... (full context)
Class and a Changing World Theme Icon
Codes of Behavior Theme Icon
...T. about where he has been and it slowly comes out that T. has visited Old Misery and toured the old man’s home. Blackie wants to understand T.’s motives for visiting Old... (full context)
Codes of Behavior Theme Icon
Money and the Value of Things Theme Icon
Adolescence, Age, and Rebellion Theme Icon
...prank that will surpass all the gang’s past exploits in daring: he wants to destroy Old Misery ’s house while the old man is out of town for the three-day weekend. Blackie... (full context)
Part 2
Codes of Behavior Theme Icon
Money and the Value of Things Theme Icon
...the special thing he has found: seventy one-pound notes that Mike overlooked when he shredded Old Misery ’s mattress. Blackie asks T. if he intends to share the money among the members... (full context)
Part 3
Class and a Changing World Theme Icon
Codes of Behavior Theme Icon
...Mike has run away from his mother to let them know that he has seen Old Misery returning early from his holiday due to the rain. Summers says they ought to run... (full context)
Class and a Changing World Theme Icon
Money and the Value of Things Theme Icon
Old Misery slowly approaches his house, stopping to wipe mud off his shoes before he enters, because... (full context)
Class and a Changing World Theme Icon
Codes of Behavior Theme Icon
Money and the Value of Things Theme Icon
Mr. Thomas is indignant that his property has been broken into, but realizes he recognizes T. from... (full context)
Codes of Behavior Theme Icon
Adolescence, Age, and Rebellion Theme Icon
Mr. Thomas stumbles, but T. catches him and Mr. Thomas automatically thanks T. Mr. Thomas tells T.... (full context)
Codes of Behavior Theme Icon
Money and the Value of Things Theme Icon
Destruction and Creation Theme Icon
Arriving at the outdoor lavatory, Mr. Thomas asks what is wrong, but receives no reply from the boy inside. T. suggests that... (full context)
Part 4
Destruction and Creation Theme Icon
...most dangerous part of the job, although it is not made clear what this is. Mr. Thomas hears sawing, which he can tell is not coming from inside his house. This reassures... (full context)
Adolescence, Age, and Rebellion Theme Icon
One of the boys slips Mr. Thomas a blanket and some food through a hole in the lavatory door. Mr. Thomas asks... (full context)
Class and a Changing World Theme Icon
Codes of Behavior Theme Icon
Destruction and Creation Theme Icon
Now aware of the shouting, the lorry driver goes to the outdoor lavatory and lets Mr. Thomas out. Mr. Thomas lets out a sob when he sees the destruction and asks where... (full context)