The Destructors

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Top Hat Symbol Icon

Top hats in the story symbolize the obsolete values of the upper class in post-WW2-England, and the mocking attitude of the formerly lower class towards those upper class values. The top hat is an outdated, impractical affectation. Rather than keeping the head warm, top hats show that their wearers know the rules of formalwear, a kind of knowledge which has little value in the new more meritocratic world of post-war England. To the lower classes newly empowered by the destruction of the old order, the top hat’s tall, conical shape is a sign of unearned privilege and undeserved prestige, and seems to beg to be mocked or even knocked off the wearer’s head. Or, in the case of a house like Mr. Thomas’s that resembles a top hat, pulled down and destroyed.

Top Hat Quotes in The Destructors

The The Destructors quotes below all refer to the symbol of Top Hat. 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 1 Quotes

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.

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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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Top Hat Symbol Timeline in The Destructors

The timeline below shows where the symbol Top Hat 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
Codes of Behavior Theme Icon
...which puts Blackie in mind of a parody of an upper class man in a top hat that he has seen at a nearby variety show. (full context)
Part 4
Class and a Changing World Theme Icon
Codes of Behavior Theme Icon
Destruction and Creation Theme Icon
...the house had stood “with such dignity between the bomb-sites like a man in a top hat ” strikes him as hilarious. (full context)