The Destructors

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Themes and Colors
Class and a Changing World Theme Icon
Codes of Behavior Theme Icon
Money and the Value of Things Theme Icon
Adolescence, Age, and Rebellion Theme Icon
Destruction and Creation Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Destructors, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Adolescence, Age, and Rebellion Theme Icon

The members of the Wormsley Common Gang are boys ranging in age from nine to fifteen years old. Mike is still a child, while T. and Blackie are just a few years into their teens. As such, there is little surprise in the boys’ rebellious antics. They have little respect for the world around them – a world blown apart by a war that shaped their society but which they don’t remember – and so in search of fun and fame from rival gangs they pull pranks such as stealing rides on buses. The boys’ rebellions are general and undirected and, for a young boy like Mike, even the destruction of Mr. Thomas’s house is just another prank to carry out with gusto.

In the character of T., though, the story explores a different, more pointed sort of rebellion. In the past, both T.’s father and Mr. Thomas worked to build houses – T.’s father as an architect, and Mr. Thomas in the slightly less prestigious profession of builder and decorator. By destroying the house, T. rebels against his father, who pointed its architectural importance out to T., and against what his father holds to be important. Although destroying an old man’s home and possessions is a cruel act, T. is not motivated by cruelty, as is made clear when he thinks of Mr. Thomas’s comfort after locking him in the lavatory and brings him food and a blanket. Instead the story ties the plan to destroy the house directly to T.’s upbringing, describing it as having “been with him all his life, pondered through the seasons, now in his fifteenth year crystallized with the pain of puberty.” This strengthens the impression that T. sees destroying the house as an act of rebellion against the world of his family.

The connection between rebellion, adolescence, and aging is clearly drawn in the scene when T. and Blackie burn Mr. Thomas’s life savings and “the grey ash floated above them and fell on their heads like age.” This image ties the burning of the money directly to the gray-haired elders whose values T. seeks to flout. And yet it also implies that this act of rebellion will have an impact on the boys themselves. Although it happens outside the confines of the story, Blackie, T. and the rest of the gang are also, inevitably, growing older themselves. There may come a day when they realize the monstrousness of their act towards a weak, elderly man. There may even come a day when they themselves are old, and the things that they have built or cherished are dismissed and destroyed by a younger generation.

The story also employs shifts in perspective to deepen its portrayal of youthful rebellion. When Mr. Thomas is locked in the lavatory, the story is told from his perspective. He feels “dithery and confused and old,” sitting on the lavatory “loo” and contemplating his situation “with the wisdom of age.” The image of Mr. Thomas sitting on the toilet seems to mock the “the wisdom of age” as nothing more than the realization that one can do little to change the world (or even to escape a locked lavatory). Simultaneously though, the image shows us how cruel what the boys are doing to Mr. Thomas is. With the energy of youth, they cannot fathom Mr. Thomas’s discomfort as he sits in a damp, cold lavatory, nor do they consider the horrible injury they are doing him by destroying all that he has left in the world. Yet in its final scene the story shifts to track the actions of the adult lorry driver, who inadvertently pulls down Mr. Thomas’s house and then laughs despite Mr. Thomas’s obvious distress. This cruel laughter is shocking, but also shows that the British society portrayed in the story is itself going through a kind of adolescence, moving away from the rules that governed it in the past, but still lacking a clear moral compass and sense of right and wrong.

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Adolescence, Age, and Rebellion ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Adolescence, Age, and Rebellion appears in each Part of The Destructors. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Adolescence, Age, and Rebellion Quotes in The Destructors

Below you will find the important quotes in The Destructors related to the theme of Adolescence, Age, and Rebellion.
Part 1 Quotes

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.

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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.

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.