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“The Destructors” and “The Rocking Horse Winner” were both written in the third person by British authors and set in post war Great Britain. “The Destructors” was written post World War II and “The Rocking Horse Winner” was written post World War I. Misery caused by poverty is the underlying theme of each story. The significance of the period each story was penned can easily be understood when considering the miserable living conditions of the people of post war Great Britain.
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The characters in “The characters in “The Destructors” are not as fully developed as those in “The Rocking Horse Winner”. In “The Destructors” the characters are bound together as a distinct unit or a gang. Their overall interaction is based primarily on the destruction of Old Misery’s house. Dialogue between the gang members is limited to a great extent on the house’s destruction. In contrast, “The Rocking Horse Winner” characters, Paul, his mother, his uncle, and Bassett, are in constant conflict over poverty and bad luck as opposed to wealth and good luck. “The Destructors” is a story about the gang-style activities of young boys living in the inner-city poverty of post-war London and their conspiracy toward destroying an old man’s house. The opening of “The Rocking Horse Winner” sets the tone, mood, introduction of its principal characters, and theme of a poverty stricken family and Paul’s struggle to overcome their need for more money and bring luck to the family.
Through “T he Rocking Horse Winner’s” theme of the quest for materialism is realized in the end. In “The Destructors” materialism is destroyed. Where Paul in “The Rocking Horse Winner” strives to fulfill his family’s need for more money; in “The Destructors”, T. along with Blackie, burns seventy-pound notes in what T. called “a celebration”. In both stories, there is an intense struggle to satisfy the frustration over being impoverished.
Suspense is created in “The Destructors” by means of the time frame in which the gang has to do their work. The gang expected Old Misery to return home on a certain day and at a certain hour. Suspense is quickened when Old Misery returned home early and some gang members were still inside. The suspense heightened yet again as a gang member tried to stall Old Misery outside the house. Eventually, Old Misery was lured into his “Lav”, where he was locked for the duration of the home’s destruction. Suspense built in “The Rocking Horse Winner” as Paul rocked furiously for the name of the Derby’s winner. Suspense heightened as the winning name came to Paul, because he had recently had a dry spell and there was doubt concerning his luck.
It is interesting that both stories revolve around “luck” being a prerequisite for wealth. Old Misery’s fine home in “The Destructors” represents luck and wealth. The home survived bombings of the war even when everything around it had been reduced to rubble. Paul’s mother in “The Rocking Horse Winner” blames her family’s unluckiness on their poverty.
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The moral implications of both stories reflect the desperation that is sometimes associated with those in need. This is especially true when those that want see others that have. They begin to feel as if it should be them. The gang in “The Destructors” not only destroyed Old Misery’s house out of idleness, but also for the recognition they perceived to gain from other gangs and the underworld associations. Greene makes it clear that the gang’s intent on destroying the house was without malice against Old Misery himself. Paul in “The Rocking Horse Winner”, seeks wealth based on his family’s needs. This in itself is not wrong; however, instead of earning the money, Paul relies on “luck” and a game of chance to provide his family with the needed income. Another moral aspect of the story is that Paul’s mother influenced his imagination in that she based their poverty on his father’s “unluckiness” and her “unluckiness” by being married to him. As a result, Paul began to view “good” luck as the basis for overcoming being poor, which in turn led him to seek games of chance.
The conclusion of both stories is sad. In “The Destructors”, not only is Old Misery’s house destroyed, but also during the latter part of the demolition, the gang holds him captive in the out-house. The final humiliation appears when the lorry driver is an unknowing accomplice but still finds humor in Old Misery’s house being razed. In the “Rocking Horse Winner”, tragically although Paul selects the winning horse of the derby and brings wealth to his family, he dies in the end. Paul’s last words to his mother were “I’m lucky”.
In conclusion, the two short stories as compared and contrasted above, depict the degradation of social norms caused by poverty. The two sets of characters’ reactions to this abasement are different, and both prove ineffective attempts to overcome or cope with the situation.
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