In “The Destructors” Graham Greene uses Trevor and other characters as an example to assert that the war and the bombing that injured British cities during the war was causing people surrounded by the destruction to become desensitized. Blackie and the other members of the gang all distrust Old Misery’s exhibitions of generosity and so go along with Trevor’s plan to destroy his house. The local lorry driver finds the ruination of the old house hilarious. Trevor is held up as the story’s most prominent example of war-caused sociopathy while on the other end of the spectrum is Mr.
Thomas (that is Old Misery’s proper name, the poor man lost his house, a show of respect is needed here) who shows that he still has some softer emotions left. Their reactions all fall on different points of that spectrum, but they all have one thing in common. That the war has affected the way they react to each other.
The story was first published in 1954, nine years after World War II ended.
The young members of the Wormsley Common Gang had either grown up with the war or were born into a London that had been wounded by it. Either way, they are emotionally stunted by their circumstances. They aren’t hardened criminals yet, just lost, as though they have nothing that anchors them in their unstable world except the gang. Mike, the most childish of the group, is the only one who seems to have a home life. He goes home occasionally, unlike anyone else in the gang. The gang’s mistrust of kindness is shown when Blackie, Mike and “a thin yellow boy” named Summers frantically think up excuses and mock Mr. Thomas for his generosity. He gives them Smarties (the English chocolate kind, not American Smarties) after making sure that they “‘belong to the lot that play in the car-park.’” “The gang were puzzled and perturbed by this action and tried to explain it away. Bet someone dropped them and he picked em up’” Their own detached minds can’t compute an altruistic gift from another person, so they jump to every possible malicious reason for Mr. Thomas giving them the chocolate.
The one they settle on, bribery, provokes them into throwing balls at Thomas’s wall. While the three gang members are foolishly tormenting Old Misery’s’ wall, Trevor was being entertained by him while coldly planning to destroy his house. The other members of the gang, including Blackie, are obvious in their contempt for Mr. Thomas but Trevor doesn’t feel anything at all towards him. He methodically organizes the total destruction of a house that he thinks is beautiful. There is no reason, logical or illogical, for his plan. The only reasonable explanation the reader is left with is that he did it because he could. And Trevor isn’t content just to pull down Mr. Thomas’s house; he burns Mr. Thomas’s savings. When Blackie, making a reasonable assumption, says “‘You hate him a lot?’” Trevor replies, in a line that encapsulates his lack of feeling, “‘Of course I don’t hate himThere’d be no fun if I hated himall this hate and loveit’s soft, it’s hooey.’”
Only once does Trevor break his eerie calm, when Thomas comes back early and threatens Trevor’s vision of a broken house. “He protested with the fury of the child he had never been, It isn’t fair’” His reaction plants the thought in the readers mind that Trevor has a great deal of repressed anger, and he needed to ruin Mr. Thomas’s perfect house because he resented its beauty. The fact of Mr. Thomas’s perfect house is the explanation for his generosity. His house and life wasn’t destroyed by German bombs therefore he could still feel, unlike Trevor. His generosity is hidden behind a crotchety demeanor. He gives them the chocolates after saying he doesn’t like them, but it’s still more of a gift than they were used to, judging by their reactions. Thomas’s whole personality seems to be linked with his house.
They’re both slightly ragged but still standing strong amid the remnants of war. “He didn’t want to soil his house, which stood jagged and dark between the bomb-sites, saved so narrowly, as he believed, from destruction” When he implodes after seeing the ruins of his house, its clear that the house was keeping him going. In the end of the story we are shown the most chilling example of desensitization in the lorry driver who laughs at Mr. Thomas’s misfortune.
“His eyes lit on the remains of a bath and what had once been a dresser and he began to laugh. There wasn’t anything left anywhere. How dare you laugh,’ Mr. Thomas said. It was my house. My house.’ I’m sorry,’ the driver said, making heroic efforts, but when he remembered the sudden check to his lorry, the clash 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 leftnot 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.’”
The phrase “There’s nothing personal” is used twice in this story. By the lorry driver, quoted above, but also by Trevor. When the gang locks Mr. Thomas in his outhouse for the night, Trevor says these words as he gives Thomas a blanket and food. “We want you to be comfortable” as they destroy his house, preventing him from being comfortable ever again. Nothing personal, though. But it’s clearly true it’s not personalto Trevor or anyone else except Mr. Thomas. World War II left scars on most of Europe. The scars left on Britain were the bomb-sites that reminded the English people of the blitzes. In “The Destructors” Graham Greene shows his readers that deeper scars were left on the souls and hearts of the survivors. The threat of death and homelessness and abandonment was causing them to cut off all emotions. This phenomenon is shown in the disturbed character of Trevor, in the gang’s rejection of Mr. Thomas’s good qualities and in the lorry driver’s unusual reaction to Mr. Thomas’s dead house.