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The Destructors

Maya Feldman On:

The Destructors by Graham Greene

The Destructors was published in Britain in 1954 and Greene considered it to be one of the best three pieces he had ever written. A gang of boys living in a destructed, bombed out London neighborhood after WWII are joined by a “cultured” boy from a different class and different neighborhood who convinces them to utterly destroy the house of the “Old Misery”, the only house in the neighborhood to survive the Blitz intact. The educated boy (he is even familiar with the building’s architect) has apparently been planning this for quite a while. In the vicious dynamics of children’s companionship, which are wonderfully depicted here, the other boys follow the boy’s lead and the story goes on to describe the act of destruction in detail, up to the very moment that the old man returns home and witnesses his life’s devastation. A truck driver who was parked nearby and saw the house collapse – a sort of co-viewer of this “artistic installation” (“…destruction is after all a form of creation.  A kind of imagination had seen this house as it had now become”, writes Greene) – bursts out in laughter. And so, with one single stroke, Graham Greene uses this short and cruel story to capture a malicious reflective movement that duplicates itself on and on – the wickedness of man, the wickedness of art, the wickedness of the writer – under the heavy shadow of history that is cast over the bombed out neighborhood. The reader is forced to consider the price of true subversion, one which is devoid of compassion and, as the poor old man is told more than once throughout the story, has “nothing personal” about it.

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