‘The Destructors’ by Graham Greene

Like a lot of people I first came across this story when it was used in the film Donnie Darko. It’s a tale of nihilism, set in aftermath of World War II. A group of kids hatch a plan to vandalise one of the large houses that survived the war. Bit by bit they destroy it, and like the kids in Lord of the Flies or the teen gangs in Brighton Rock, their orgy of violence grows as they work together for their aim.  I think you can just read it as a great adventure story, a “high concept” done expertly, but of course, as the discussion in Donnie Darko shows, it’s also a story that can be seen as a morality tale of sorts. Clearly Greene is observing this new idea of the teenager and making something of it. We are only a couple of years away from the riots that would accompany Rock Around the Clock after all. 

First published in Picture Post, 1954, and collected in Twenty-one Stories, Heinemann, 1954, and Complete Short Stories, Penguin Classics, 2005, and available to read online here

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