“The Destructors” focuses particularly on the clash between the pre-war and post-war generations in their relationships to money and material possessions. Perhaps in part because the boys of the gang have grown up during a time of shortage, they have little respect for money or things. They avoid stealing because they think it will end with them going to jail, but also because they see it as beneath them to obsess over and covet material things. They would rather sneak rides on public transportation than shoplift, for instance. This is because of their sense that material objects are corrupting, and can be used by the powerful to control the less powerful. And so, when Mr. Thomas offers them chocolates, they interpret it not as a gift but as a bribe.
Mr. Thomas, by contrast, cares deeply about his possessions and has a penchant for hoarding his money. He prizes his house, but cares too deeply about saving money to fix its plumbing and must, therefore, use an outdoor lavatory. This demonstrates that he is more concerned with what money and possessions symbolize than with their functional purposes. He would rather have a home that symbolizes his class affiliation than a comfortable and functional home in which to live.
T., though, takes the boys’ irreverence for material objects to a different level. Rather than ignore the world of material things, T. seeks to destroy it. The story implies that the strength of T.’s antipathy for things arises from his family situation. T.’s family has fallen on hard times. His father, who used to be an architect, has had to take a far less prestigious job as a clerk and, presumably, to move his family into the working-class neighborhood where the boys in the gang live and where T.’s mother feels out of place. When T. tells Blackie that hate and love are “soft” and “hooey” and that there are “only things,” the story suggests that conflict over the loss of possessions and wealth may make T.’s family life unhappy, leading him to believe that there is no such thing as love between people. When he finds Mr. Thomas’s money, he responds with disdain to Blackie’s inquiry as to whether he intends to steal it. For T., burning the money is a celebratory act that allows him to feel liberated from the fixation on material possessions that dominates his home life.
The focus the other boys bring to the task of destroying the house indicates that, perhaps without their even knowing it, they share T.’s deep-seated disgust for material things. Similarly, the lorry driver’s uncontrolled laughter in response to the home’s destruction reflects a wider societal resentment for material things. Although the destruction of the war has swept away many of the distinctions between the classes, so long as people like Mr. Thomas have and treasure their beautiful, old relics, pre-war class divisions and codes of behavior still have some hold on the present.
Money and the Value of Things ThemeTracker
Money and the Value of Things Quotes in The Destructors
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.
'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.
'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.'