The Destructors

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Destructors published in 1993.
Part 1 Quotes

There was every reason why T., as he was afterwards referred to, should have been an object of mockery - there was his name (and they substituted the initial because otherwise they had no excuse not to laugh at it), the fact that his father, a former architect and present clerk, had 'come down in the world' and that his mother considered herself better than the neighbours. What but an odd quality of danger, of the unpredictable, established him in the gang without any ignoble ceremony of initiation?

Related Characters: Trevor, or “T.”
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage near the start of the story gives a sense of the Wormsley Common Gang’s class concerns and their code of behavior, while also describing T.’s background and personality.

The boys are turned off by the name Trevor, a name that none of their parents would have given them, and which marks T. out as someone born into a higher class than the rest of them. Usually, the boys mock all things that symbolize the upper class for them, and they clearly disdain T.’s mother who does not fit in among their mothers.

T. is not a normal boy though. He impresses the gang with his unusual and dangerous-seeming silence and with his apparent indifference to what they think about him or his name. His personal qualities allow him to be accepted into the group without going through any process of hazing or humiliation, which it seems the gang usually inflicts on new members.

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The gang met every morning in an impromptu car-park, the site of the last bomb of the first blitz. The leader, who was known as Blackie, claimed to have heard it fall, and no one was precise enough in his dates to point out that he would have been one year old and fast asleep on the down platform of Wormsley Common Underground Station.

Related Characters: Blackie
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote describes the story’s setting and situates the action in its historical moment. The story takes place in Northwood Terrace, a London housing development that was ruined during the Second World War. During the war the German enemy conducted a series of massive bombing campaigns that were called blitzes (from the word Blitzkrieg, or “lightning strike” in German). These attacks destroyed over a million buildings in London. The action unfolds after the war has long been over, but the physical damage done to London is still visible all over the city. The characters meet daily in a parking lot that was created after the rubble from the ruined bombed-out houses had been carted away. That this public place was created by the destruction of private space mirrors what the boys themselves will ultimately do to Mr. Thomas’s house.

The quote also introduces another of the story’s protagonists, Blackie, who is the leader of the gang until his place gets usurped by T. Blackie pretends to remember the sound of the bombing, which makes him seem knowledgeable and experienced to the other boys. This is the first time that the story draws a connection between a character’s ability to hear and interpret the sounds of destruction and the character’s ability to adapt and thrive in a changing world.

He was just, he had no jealousy, 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 that you could still see parodied at the Wormsley Common Empire by a man wearing a top hat and a monocle, with a haw-haw accent. He was tempted to say, 'My dear Trevor, old chap,' and unleash his hell hounds.

Related Characters: Trevor, or “T.”, Blackie
Related Symbols: Top Hat
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

T. has arrived late to the lot for the day and told the gang about his impromptu visit and tour of Mr. Thomas’s house. Blackie tries to convince himself that he is not jealous, but he likely did feel some threat to his authority in the gang after the introduction of this mysterious new member.

At this moment he is trying to make sense of T.’s strange action. In particular, he must assess whether T.’s behavior fits with the group’s code, which calls for the pulling of provocative pranks that challenge authority. T.’s visit to Mr. Thomas, and especially his description of Mr. Thomas’s house as beautiful, seems to be a respectful show of homage to the old man and his home. Further, if T. is impressed by this old house, it suggests to Blackie that T.’s beliefs about class are admiring of the old, pre-war class order, and thus out-of-step with the gang’s.

T. was giving his orders with decision: it was as though this plan had been with him all his life, pondered through the seasons, now in his fifteenth year crystallized with the pain of puberty.

Related Characters: Trevor, or “T.”
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Blackie finds this scene when he walks back to the group after going off by himself to a different corner of the parking lot to consider T.’s plan and the fact that the rest of the gang has suddenly accepted T.’s authority over Blackie’s. He comes back to find that T.’s personality and way of carrying himself have altered. During the weeks since T. entered the gang when he hardly spoke at all, it seems he was brooding and thinking up a way to rebel with special resonance for him. He is brought to life and confidence by this plan to destroy the old architectural gem that his father pointed out to him as special. The plan is tied to the “pain of puberty” which suggests it is part of the process by which T. will prove his independence from his parents and their beliefs, including their belief in status symbols like Old Misery’s house.

Part 2 Quotes

The dining-room was stripped of parquet, the skirting was up, the door had been taken off its hinge, and the destroyers had moved up a floor. 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.

Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage explicitly ties destruction to creation. The boys are deliberate, sticking to T.’s master plan for the destruction of the house. But what exactly is being created? This is a question to keep in mind while reading the rest of the story. For one, the social connection between the boys is altered, as the seriousness T. brings to the endeavor spreads to the rest of the gang. The boys are having the experience of organizing their labor, something that all of England was then experiencing with the rise of the Labour Party following the Second World War. Secondly, this act of destruction will also likely expand the size of the parking lot where the boys of the Wormsley Common Gang meet. Finally, this destruction will impact the characters’ lives in the future not portrayed within the confines of the story.

'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.

Part 3 Quotes

'Oh no, we haven't. Anybody could do this -' 'this' was the shattered hollowed house with nothing left but the walls. Yet walls could be preserved. Facades were valuable. They could build inside again more beautifully than before. This could again be a home. He said angrily, 'We've got to finish. Don’t move. Let me think.'

Related Characters: Trevor, or “T.” (speaker)
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Mike has warned the gang that Mr. Thomas has come home early from his vacation and will soon arrive. The other boys, especially Summers, want to give up on completing the total destruction of the house to avoid being caught, but T. is determined to finish. He wants to strip the house of any value as a material possession and make certain it can never be used as a home again. For destruction to be a kind of creation, it must be carried out as it was envisioned and completed. If the house is not utterly demolished, then the damages to it may be repaired, and no new thing will come to be created in the space where it once stood.

T. stood with his back to the rubble like a boxer knocked groggy against the ropes. He had no words as his dreams shook and slid. Then Blackie acted before the gang had time to laugh, pushing Summers backward. 'I'll watch the front, T.,' he said, and cautiously he opened the shutters of the hall.

Related Characters: Blackie (speaker), Trevor, or “T.”, Summers
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Summers, who wants the boys to flee the scene before Mr. Thomas arrives, has just undermined T. by using his full first name. T. has been a confident leader since proposing his plan, but now seems rapidly to transform back into the silent, brooding figure that the gang first met at the beginning of the summer. At this moment, Blackie takes back his position as leader by boldly, spontaneously throwing his support behind T. and physically shoving Summers. Throughout the story Blackie’s feelings towards T. have evolved from suspicion to jealousy and now, finally, to loyalty. The boy’s code of behavior views Blackie’s act of physical aggression as trumping Summers’s attempt to mock T., and so the boys fall in line and follow Blackie in his support for T.

It is worth considering what motivates Blackie’s loyalty, though. While it might be that he feels loyalty to T. after their conversation while burning Mr. Thomas’s money, it seems perhaps even more likely that Blackie has grown loyal not so much to T. as to T’s plan. Blackie, after all, now understands how the destruction of the house is a more profound form of rebellion than anything the gang has done before. And, further, Blackie recognizes that in completing the job that the gang is likely to gain respect from other gangs. Blackie’s loyalty to the plan, then, shows his loyalty to the gang and its prospects, and his belief in the meritocratic success-based world. He supports the plan because he thinks the plan will bring the gang, and him personally, success.

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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