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Title:
A Comparison of Graham GreeneÕs "The Destructors"
and William GoldingÕs Lord of the Flies
Word Count: 2,279 words
Author: Sylvester The Cat
In Graham GreeneÕs "The Destructors," the author presents the
Wormsley Common car-park gang, a group of adolescent
delinquents who commit petty crimes for fun. William Golding, in
his novel Lord of the Flies, presents a slightly younger group of
boys who are wrecked on an uninhabited island and develop a
primitive society that eventually collapses and gives way to
despotic savagery. Although these two cases seem rather
different, the boys in both situations show common
characteristics. They react to the outside environment of their
worlds in similar ways. There are also trends in the development
of the dynamic characters in each story. Each account presents
a conflict of interests between two dominant characters, a
leadership struggle, a predefined goal set by the boys, and a
mystified enemy. There are even parallel characters. For
example, Blackie in "The Destructors" resembles Ralph in Lord
of the Flies. In Graham GreeneÕs "The Destructors," the boysÕ
behaviour, thoughts, and social-development patterns parallel
those of the boys in William GoldingÕs Lord of the Flies.
One of the main characters in Lord of the Flies is the "beast."
This mythical creation is a product of the boysÕ collective fear of
being plane-wrecked on an uninhabited island. They also have
a few unreliable "sightings" to support their suspicions. The
beast eventually develops into a totem, a pagan god for JackÕs
simple religion. The boys fear this beast, because it manifests
itself in the boars that roam the island, both a danger and a
source of food. The beast of "The Destructors" is not imaginary:
a retired old builder and decorator, Mr. Thomas, or, as he is
called by the boys, Old Misery, is simply a nice old man. The
boys, who hate all that is of a class above theirs, do not trust
him, and see him as a mean old tyrant. A simple kind act is
grossly misinterpreted by the boys, who have hardly ever
experienced kindness:
"I got some chocolates," Mr. Thomas said. "DonÕt like Ôem
myself. Here you are. Not enough to go around, I donÕt suppose.
There never is," he added with somber conviction. He handed
over three packs of Smarties.
The gang were puzzled and perturbed by this action and tried to
explain it away. "Bet someone dropped them and he picked Ôem
up," somebody suggested.
                "Pinched Ôem and then got in a bleeding
funk," another thought aloud.
                "ItÕs a bribe," Summers said. "He wants us
to stop bouncing balls on his wall."
        "WeÕll show him we donÕt take bribes," Blackie said,
and they sacrificed the whole morning to the game of bouncing
that only Mike was young enough to enjoy. There was no sign
from Mr. Thomas. (Greene 50)
This complete lack of trust not only shows that the boys have
never been given anything for free, it also demonstrates the hate
that the boys have for Old Misery and how they distance
themselves from him. They form a belief system surrounding him
in the same way that the boys in Lord of the Flies do for their
beast. The beast in Lord of the Flies is a god who is feared,
while Old Misery is a "god" who is hated!
        "The Destructors" opens with the sentence: "It was
the eve of August Bank Holiday that the latest recruit became
the leader of the Wormsley Common Gang" (Greene 49). This
statement introduces an atmosphere of conflict. Blackie, one of
the oldest boys in the gang, is understood to have been the
leader for a good length of time, and the introduction of another
dominant character naturally brings conflict. When Trevor
makes his ideas known, he becomes a challenger to the
"throne." A similar scenario exists in Lord of the Flies. Once the
boys are gathered together on the island, they vote for a leader.
Ralph, the oldest boy, assumes this post. Eventually, Jack
leaves the group, becoming a bit of a recluse. He invites all
those who want to have fun to join his tribe. Eventually, all but
Ralph join him. "The Destructors"Õs Trevor resembles Jack in
Lord of the Flies in that he seems to be a recluse, but eventually
wins over the whole groupÕs favour by proposing a popular
course of action. JackÕs choice to form a new tribe is therefore
symbolically equivalent to TrevorÕs decision to tear down the
house.
        Trevor and Jack have many similar personality traits
and they rise to power in similar ways. These two characters are
both manipulators. They are self-centered and stubborn, but are
also passably good leaders. Jack and Trevor are the only
characters of each story that realize the true nature of their
respective "beasts." Jack understands that his beast is nothing
more than the accumulated fears of the boys coupled with the
darkness of their hearts. Trevor is the only one of the Wormsley
Common Gang who understands what Old MiseryÕs house
represents. He calls it "beautiful." Trevor hates Old Misery and
his house much more than the rest of the Wormsley Gang,
because he had once known this beauty, this graceful life. His
father had once been an architect, and had "Ôcome down in the
worldÕ" (Greene 49) to the position of clerk. He can understand
what it means to be rich, to live in a nice house. He is the one
who brings this "beast" to the other boysÕ attention, in the same
way that Jack deifies the islandÕs beast. These two boys both
make their respective groups aware of the nearby evils, and
exaggerate them, using the attention produced to their
advantage. In both cases, the opinion of this "beast" is
magnified. These two boys manipulate their groups into action
under their command.
        "The Destructors" is set in World
War II England, in a heavily-bombed part of London.
The Wormsley Common GangÕs base of operation is the common
ground that had once been bordered by many houses, but is
little more than a wasteland with one house left:
On one side of the car-park leant the first occupied house, No.
3, of the shattered Northwood TerraceÑliterally leant, for it had
suffered from the blast of the bomb and the side walls were
supported on wooden struts. A smaller bomb and some
incendiaries had fallen beyond, so that the house stuck up like a
jagged tooth and carried on the further wall relics of its neighbor,
a dado, the remains of a fireplace. (Greene 50)
This is an atmosphere of chaos. The boys in the Wormsley
Gang see this destruction all around them, and it is clearly an
inspiration for their destructive "art form." They perform a
"bombing run" on Old MiseryÕs house. The boys in Lord of the
Flies live in a similar atmosphere.
Their world is suffering through a futuristic atomic war.
They are sent (home, it is assumed) in an
airplane which is shot down. The boys adopt violent tendencies,
eventually murdering two of their number, three had they not
been awestruck by the arrival of the naval officer. These actions
are partly a result of "the darkness of manÕs heart" (Golding
223), which Golding presents as the point of central focus of this
novel, partly a result of the wartime setting. Thus, the island
becomes a microcosm of the world at war, and the Wormsley
Common and Old MiseryÕs house become a mini-battleground, a
smaller model of the European political scene in the early forties.
        Both groups of boys develop a strange set of values.
The boys in "The Destructors" want at all costs to avoid any
police involvement in their little crimes. They do not want to steal
anything from Old Misery, but do not see anything legally wrong
with destroying his house. They cannot see theft and
destruction as the same thing, as we do in our society today:
                "And pinch things?" somebody asked.
        Blackie said, "Nobody going to pinch things. Breaking
inÑthatÕs good enough, isnÕt it? We donÕt want any court stuff."
[É]
"WhoÕs to prove? And anyway we wouldnÕt have pinched
anything." He added without the smallest flicker of glee, "There
wouldnÕt be anything left to pinch after weÕd finished."
        "IÕve never heard of going to prison for breaking
things," Summers said. (Greene 52)
This warped viewpoint of the law and what is morally right and
wrong stems from undereducation and misinformation. Also,
these boys have been left to think alone about such things for a
long time. This reveals the truth that when left to their own
devices, people will think up strange things: sometimes
distortions of truth, sometimes ideas that bear no semblance to
truth. Another example of strange developments is the pagan
religion in Lord of the Flies. In the same way that the Wormsley
Common GangÕs code of honour stems from British law, JackÕs
totemic religion stems from manÕs instinctive spiritualism.
The groups of boys in "The Destructors" and Lord of the Flies
each have something to gain from the beast. In "The
Destructors," the boys make frequent use of Old MiseryÕs
outhouse. The boys in Lord of the Flies believe that their deified
beast-god is in the image of a wild boar and is the god of pigs.
They offer pig heads affixed on sharpened sticks as sacrifices to
appease their god. Although in "The Destructors," the boys hate
their beast, they too offer him a few things to appease him.
When they lock him into his own outhouse, they push a gray
blanket in through the star-shaped hole in the door. Then they
throw him a handful of buttered buns and a few sausage rolls.
This expression of sympathy is somewhat surprising considering
what the boys had done to Mr. ThomasÕ house, but shows yet
another similarity between the actions of the two groups of boys.
The destruction of the house, the gradual entropy from the
orderly masterpiece of Christopher Wren to the shambles that
remain at the end, can be compared with the gradual decrease
in order beginning with JackÕs rise to power and ending in the
burning of the island. The final collapse of the outer structure of
the house is similar to the collapse of the structure of the forest,
the burning of the trees. Both of these actions bring about the
downfall of the beasts. The mountain on the island in Lord of the
Flies is similar to Old MiseryÕs house, because it is big, imposing,
and houses the "beast" character. When the house has been
collapsed, the beast, Old Misery, has been thwarted. When the
forest is burned, all of the wild pigs are killed. These animals are
the totemic representation of the beast, and the mountain is,
according to the boysÕ mythology, the beastÕs lair. When the
boys leave the island, they leave that beast behind them (even
though the beast is really the darkness of manÕs heart, they
leave the islandÕs incarnation of the beast behind and head for
the world that is being ravaged by the beast). In both of these
cases, the beast is beaten. The fire at the end of Lord of the
Flies is thus parallel to the collapse of the house at the end of
"The Destructors."
At the end of Lord of the Flies, a navy officer arrives on the
beach and meets the boys. He delivers an impression from the
outside world of what has happened. He puts the events of the
bloody war in a different light, trying to cheer up the boys with
observations like "fun and games" (Golding 221) and "I know.
Jolly good show. Like the Coral Island" (Golding 223). The
officerÕs parallel in "The Destructors" is the truck driver. He
delivers a final commentary, a different viewpoint:
        "My house," [Mr. Thomas] said. "WhereÕs my
house?"
"Search me," the driver said. His eye lit on the remains of a bath
and what had once been a dresser and he began to laugh.
There wasnÕt anything left anywhere.
                "How dare you laugh," Mr. Thomas said. "It
was my house. My house."
        "IÕm sorry," the driver said, making heroic efforts, but
when he remembered the sudden check to his lorry, the crash 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 wasnÕt
anything leftÑnot anything. He said, "IÕm sorry. I canÕt help it, Mr.
Thomas. ThereÕs nothing personal, but you got to admit itÕs
funny." (Greene 60-1)
The truck driver sheds a different light on the story. He has a
humourous viewpoint of what is otherwise not a funny story. This
black humour resembles the naval officerÕs embarrassed attempt
at humour at the end of Lord of the Flies. These two characters
help to put the stories in perspective by briefly giving their
impressions of the situation they have in front of them.
        Both William Golding and Graham Greene have very
good models of adolescent boys. When placed in various
environments, they react realistically. Therefore, it comes as no
great surprise that when they are isolated, they develop in the
same pattern. It is interesting to see that, despite the difference
in social class, era, and placement, the Wormsley Common
Gang does not seem that different from the boys on the island in
Lord of the Flies. They might have different symbolic
representations for the various common elements of their
cultures, but these elements are the same. Both stories have a
beast, a beastÕs lair, an honest leader, a manipulator figure, an
"underdog," and evidence of influence from the outside world.
The parallelism between these two works demonstrates the
constancy of human nature. Despite changing times, people
remain basically the same.
Works Cited
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. London: Faber & Faber, 1954.
Greene, Graham. "The Destructors," Story and Structure.
Seventh Edition. Edited by
Laurence Perrine, assisted by Thomas R. Arp. New York:
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988, 49-61.
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