The Destructors

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Class and a Changing World Theme Analysis

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.
Class and a Changing World Theme Icon

“The Destructors” is set in London, England in the early 1950s. World War II has ended less than a decade earlier, and the city and country are slowly emerging from the destruction of the war. England is not emerging unscathed or unchanged, however. The country is scarred by the deaths of hundreds of thousands of its soldiers and the destruction incurred during the unprecedented German bombing campaign on British cities. England after the war is also witnessing drastic changes to its social and political orders as a result of the war.

Before the massive upheaval of the two World Wars, England’s social hierarchy was extremely rigid. The upper classes were held to be superior, and class was inherited, making it unusual for those lower on the social ladder to move up. At the time when the story is set, the chaos and destruction of the war have reduced the fortunes of many in the upper and upper middle class, while also allowing for greater mobility among those in the lower classes.

The boys in the Wormsley Common Gang do not remember the class world that existed before the war, but they seek to fight against any return to outdated assumptions about the superiority of the upper classes and place their faith in the survival of the new, more meritocratic society then emerging. This stance on the old class order is reflected in the inner workings of the gang, and especially in the way the gang determines the hierarchy among its members. For instance, when the gang learns that the new recruit’s name is Trevor, they recognize this name as one that is only given either to members of the upper class or the ambitious upper middle class eager to be accepted among members of the true upper class. Because they have no respect for these class norms, the boys know that calling T. by his full name is a surefire way to undermine him.

Resentment towards the idea of upper class superiority also helps to motivate the boys in their destruction of Mr. Thomas’s house. T.’s father tells him that Mr. Thomas’s house was designed by Christopher Wren, an architect who lived from 1632 until 1723 and built palaces for the royal family as well as the landmark St. Paul’s Cathedral. This pedigree makes Mr. Thomas’s house a relic of the pre-war era, when class distinctions were of huge importance, and it makes the boys’ destruction of the house a symbolic strike against that old social order.

Yet the story is not simply a tale of how a rough new social order is sweeping away an older, more genteel one. Indeed, the story deliberately portrays that old order as obsolete and ridiculous, as deserving to be wiped away, despite some sadness that goes along with that destruction. At the end of the story, when the lorry driver, who is clearly a member of the lower class, cannot help but laugh at the destruction of Old Misery’s home, we see that glee at the destruction of the old class order is not only an adolescent emotion, but shared by adults as well.

Mr. Thomas’s professional history shows that he comes from a time when a different, more rigid class order reigned. Mr. Thomas has the training of a decorator and builder, so he can take care of most parts of his house, but does not know how to fix the plumbing. Plumbers were drawn from a lower class than builders and decorators, and so this lack of practical knowledge is a sign of Mr. Thomas’s class pretensions. The fact that he refuses to spend money to fix his indoor plumbing and must, therefore, use an outdoor lavatory symbolizes all the concrete disadvantages that pretensions to being above manual labor has brought members of the upper class, along with the financial failure that has left him to pinch and scrimp. When the boys lock Mr. Thomas in his lavatory, it is the final sign that his ineffectual worldview has brought about his downfall.

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Class and a Changing World ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Destructors related to the theme of Class and a Changing World.
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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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.

Part 3 Quotes

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.