"The Destructors"

Ponderings about...

My introduction to "The Destructors" was Donnie Darko. It is the short story they are discussing in class before they get to Watership Down, and is later brought up in the parent meeting as a stone against the teacher.

What I know of Graham Greene is little, but he seems to be a straightforward writer who grasps the conflicting emotions in the human spirit. My experience of him is of a writer who deals with those torn between two forces, generally something like duty to country and duty to family.

Reading "Destructors" is in these lines, but even more straightforward with even less obvious of a conflict but more of a dualism. It is not like Kafka's "The Hunger Artist", where you later have to decide if the artist was creating or destroying. These kids are destroying, and through this, Greene points out they are creating in a way. "Destruction is a kind of creation."

It is when lines like this one, and ones like the one alluding that the kids don't use terms like beautiful, or right or wrong, that leads me to think that the major problems I have seen with discussions on this story is that they assume Greene was writing a moral indictment against the youth and their neo-nihilism or, in the case of the Darko, seem to suggest that Greene was in fact praising the children for being enamored with a new form of creation, the destruction of what came before.

I think the story is actually more amoral than that, though I am likely wrong. I merely took it as brief and poignant study of an act that had no true moral character, that was actually a protest against moral character (the children do not steal because they understand that this would be crossing a line). The approach the man's house as a thing made up a things, and try to reduce it to a nothing. If there is a moral statement, it could be that one man's collection of items is held together by a glue of sentimentality and lifestyle that another man might just see as a pile of junk or a week's worth of fun and destruction.

One can insert, here, the allegory of people replacing old structure with new, but I will avoid that. Even more obvious could be the idea that the new generation is wrecking what the old generation built, but that seems like needless agism, the old "you punks get off my lawn". Even if Britain (as well as the US, Canada, Germany, France, etc) did go through some generational gaps post-WW2, the story was written when the punks of the 60s and 70s were 12 and under, meaning that they had done little.

No, I think we are meant to look at the act in and of itself, the attempt to so beautifully destroy something that survived a world war, and to think about it as the act itself, not as a testimony to the raw youth or a indictment against their generation. Partially because of the ending, which I will promptly spoil for those that keep reading.

The kids fade, action is not taken against them in any form. The old man is deprived of a house, and has no idea why. He is dumbstruck by the act, and finds no way of summing it up. The truck drive that stands next to him laughs, because he only thinks of it as funny, as nothing more than a joke. Maybe the story describes war itself, where destruction is embraced as meaningful but mostly just leads one neighbor to have nothing and another neighbor to have a bitter sense of sardonic humor.

And so we are left with a pretty much nothing of an ending, the act is done, the story is as well.

Written by W Doug Bolden

For those wishing to get in touch, you can contact me in a number of ways

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The longer, fuller version of this text can be found on my FAQ: "Can I Use Something I Found on the Site?".

"The hidden is greater than the seen."