The Destructors

Postwar English Literature

The aftermath of World War II left England scarred, its landscape and its psyche forever altered.  From the rubble of old certainties, a new kind of literature arose – defiant, disillusioned, and strikingly experimental.  Writers, their voices edged with the war's bleak resonance, turned inwards, dissecting the anxieties of a fractured world. The breakdown of traditional values fueled alienation, a sense that the individual was adrift in a society that had lost its moral compass. Questions of  identity– who we are, what our purpose might be in a world teetering on the edge of absurdity– pulsed through the novels and plays of the time.

The "Angry Young Men", a group of writers fueled by working-class rage and middle-class frustration, railed against the stagnant structures of postwar Britain. Their novels pulsed with anti-heroes, cynical and rebellious, lashing out against a society that seemed indifferent to their struggle. Simultaneously,  poets like Philip Larkin and his contemporaries in "The Movement" rejected the excesses of romanticism. Their verse was precise, skeptical, stripping emotion down to its bare bones.

In the theaters, a revolution unfolded. Samuel Beckett's absurdism and Harold Pinter's silences held up a warped mirror to existence, while playwrights like John Osborne gave voice to the raw anger of Britain's working class. Novelists like George Orwell, his satire as sharp as a blade, exposed the dangers of totalitarian regimes, while William Golding shattered illusions of childhood innocence.  Women writers like Iris Murdoch and Doris Lessing delved into the complexities of the female experience, challenging societal expectations.

This was literature born from upheaval, wrestling with existential questions and pushing against the boundaries of traditional form. The legacy of postwar English literature lies in its unflinching gaze, its daring to expose the cracks in the human spirit, and its restless search for meaning in a changed world.

"The Destructors" - Graham Greene

In the bleak landscape of postwar London, amidst the rubble of bombed-out buildings, Graham Greene's "The Destructors" unfolds like a dark fable.  The story centers on the Wormsley Common Gang, a group of boys hardened by the world's decay. Their leader, a boy named T., embodies a chilling detachment, a nihilism born from witnessing the arbitrary and destructive forces of war. He conceives a plan not merely of mischief, but of utter obliteration. The target is Old Misery's house, one of the few structures left standing – a symbol of order and tradition in the wasteland of their lives.

Greene paints the act of destruction with meticulous detail. It isn't a chaotic outburst, but a methodical, almost surgical dismantling of the house from the inside out. The boys become agents of entropy, inverting the act of creation.  The once-beautiful house is reduced to a skeletal caricature of itself, a twisted monument to their rebellion. The arrival of Old Misery, and his bewildered horror at what he sees, echoes the larger devastation of the war itself.

Yet, the story transcends mere commentary on wartime violence. T.'s destructive urge speaks to the existential despair lingering in the postwar landscape. The boys, stripped of traditional structures and values, find perverse purpose in annihilation. Their actions question the very possibility of meaning in a world that seems capable of such senseless devastation. Even the truck driver's laughter at the house's collapse seems a hollow echo in a world where beauty and order have become grotesque jokes.

"The Destructors" is a chilling masterpiece because it reveals the potential for darkness not just in external forces, but within the human heart itself. In Greene's world, the aftermath of war isn't just about physical ruins, it's about the erosion of the soul, the uneasy possibility that we might all become, in some small way, agents of our own destruction.

"The Destructors" (excerpt)

Source: North Dakota State University 

"It was nearly lunch-time before Blackie had finished and went in search of T. Chaos had advanced. The kitchen was a shambles of broken glass and china. The dining-room was stripped of parquet, the skirting was up, the door had been taken off its hinges, and the destroyers had moved up a floor. Streaks of light came in through the closed shutters where they worked with the seriousness of creators - and destruction after all is a form of creation. A kind of imagination had seen this house as it had now become."

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