“The Destructors,” by Graham Greene, both indirect and direct presentation is implemented to provide a multidimensional portrayal of the characters in the story. This device is effective because each type of presentation provides the reader with a different perspective into each character. The author presents the characters directly by telling the reader details about the characters and presents the characters indirectly by showing the reader. Direct presentation allows for more of a complete understanding of the characters while indirect presentation forces the reader to make inferences based on dialogue and occurrences throughout the story.
Direct presentation is effective especially in the beginning of a short story because the reader gets a primary and absolute insight into each character’s emotions, which will in turn allow them to interpret actions and developments later on in the story. Mike’s young age, and childish naïveté is immediately exposed when Greene directly presents him as “nine [and] surprised by everything” (111). Mike’s character is clearly defined with little left for the reader to interpret. The author can best express his purpose through this type of presentation.
Greene uses direct presentation when he introduces major members of the gang such as Blackie, Trevor, and Mike. Greene reveals Blackie’s acceptance of his class standing as he describes Blackie’s reservations with Trevor’s plan. “He was just, he had no jealousy, he was anxious to retain T. in the gang if he could. It was the word ‘beautiful’ that worried him – that belonged to a class world that you could still see parodied at the Wormsley Common Empire by a man wearing a top hat and a monocle, with a haw-haw accent” (114). In this instance, direct presentation is quite effective because Greene reveals that Blackie is not a resentful character; this is a truth that would be very difficult for a reader to infer.
Old Misery is also presented directly. Greene provides direct insight into Old Misery as he describes his background early in the story. “Old Misery-whose real name was Thomas-had once been a builder and decorator. He lived alone in the crippled house, doing for himself” (112). This saves the author from having to digress from the plot in order to indirectly characterize Old Misery, which would in essence detract from the true purpose of the story.
Indirect presentation is used throughout the story to reveal subtleties and more importantly, to accentuate the story’s many paradoxes. Greene’s usage of indirect presentation in exposing these truths adds to the profundity of the story.
Greene cleverly shows Blackie’s insecurity when Blackie attempts to avoid Trevor’s plan of destroying Old Misery’s house as he feebly states, “there wouldn’t be time, I’ve seen housebreakers at work. None of us know how” (115). When Trevor taunts him and his leadership position seems compromised Blackie “uneasily [says], it’s proposed that tomorrow and Monday we destroy Old Misery’s house” (115). Greene uses the word “uneasily” to indirectly present Blackie’s insecurity and to distinguish him from his malevolent foil, Trevor.
Blackie’s foil, Trevor, also known by the gang as “T.,” is a very bitter character. Greene uses direct presentation to illustrate the many paradoxes surrounding him. T.’s attitude towards Old Misery is quite paradoxical. On the one hand, he sets about destroying his house, treating him disrespectfully, and regarding him with suspicion. At the same time, however, T. expresses that he does not hate Old Misery when he says, “of course I don’t hate him. There’d be no fun if I hated him” (118). Although his destructive behavior is not personal, the consequences are tremendous for Old Misery, but T. is unable to consider such consequences. Another instance of indirect presentation is when T. takes Mr. Thomas’s seventy one-pound notes, but not for personal gain.
Instead, he and Blackie take each pound note and “[light] the top corner, so that the flame burn[s] slowly towards their fingers” (118). Essentially, T. takes items that are inherently valuable, but he has no interest in making use of that value. T.’s attitude toward Old Misery’s house is paradoxical as well. T. said, “It’s a beautiful house,” as he “still [watched] the ground meeting no one’s eyes” (114). Green shows T.’s distaste for wealth and for the upper class when he notes T’s lack of eye contact with the gang. He knows the house is beautiful, but his feelings about beauty, especially as they relate to social classes makes it easy for him to destroy it anyway.
The Wormsley Common Gang is presented indirectly as a whole. Greene presents the gang indirectly rather than directly for the sole reason that the gang often thinks as a whole but is ultimately made up of many different members. This is shown when Mr. Thomas attempts to reach out to the boys and give them chocolates. Many members chime in their opinions on Mr. Thomas’ motives however, Blackie, their leader at the time, picks the reasoning that most suits him. “We’ll show him we don’t take bribes” (113). “They sacrificed the whole morning to the game of bouncing that only Mike was young enough to enjoy” (113). Even though none of the gang enjoyed the activity except for Mike they participated anyways. This instance indirectly reveals the insecurity of each individual gang member. Though the gang stands by the decision, none of its members even get enjoyment out of it.
The gang’s judgmental tendencies and fickly characteristics are shown through the power struggle for leadership between Blackie and T. “For the first time since T. had strolled into the carpark on the first day of the holidays his position was in dancer. It only need a single use of his real name and the gang would be at his heels” (114). The fact that Trevor feels the need to go by T. when he is with the gang reveals his own insecurity as well as the judgmental qualities of the gang. Just a few days prior Blackie had been the leader of the gang however now they “[paid] no more attention to him than to a stranger” (115). “Blackie was dimly aware of the fickleness of favor” (115).
Especially in short stories, presentation is essential. Greene does an excellent job as he masterfully uses both direct and indirect presentation to convey his message in “The Destructors.” He immediately develops the main characters through direct presentation. This way, the readers have a predisposition about each character therefore making the eventual character shift more dramatic. He uses indirect presentation to describe the gang and to reveal the subtleties and paradoxes within the story. “The Destructors” is an effective literary work because of its multidimensional qualities enabled by Green’s brilliant control of presentation.
“The Destructors” by Graham Greene
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