English 321

The Quiet American by Graham Greene

Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.

Discussion Notes




·        Greene served as a journalist in Malaysia in 1951; served as British in Viet Nam from 1951-1955

·        Some critics call it a flawless novel

·        Was considered his most controversial novel – biased political assumptions, anti-war novel, anti-American culture novel, met with some hostility in the U. S. in 1956

·        Gained more praise as the Viet Nam progressed – almost prophetic

·        Title is ironic because eventually Pyle becomes “explosive”




·        Western Colonialism:  Old Traditional European colonial system versus new and sinister American variant (95)


·        Love story, adventure story


·        Personal salvation of Fowler (130, 138, 140, 168, 171


·        One cannot remain innocent, detached, and yet human too. (152-153, 174, 183, 185)


·        What is one’s obligation as the superpower?   What commitments must we have?  How prepared are we to engage in a foreign struggle? (21, 176, 179).


·        Armed Redeemer (Pyle)


·        Relationship between world of individual and public world we all inhabit




            Pyle (what are his motives>)                                         Fowler (His motives?)

Decisive, heroic                                                            unengaged (28)

Innocent (virginal)                                                         experienced

His innocence is based upon lectures and                      Vietnamese are innocent victims of a 

     books; Pyle’s innocence is a result of                       violent and cruel world beyond their

     ignorance, lack of moral education (29, 162)            control

Ideology (94)                                                               Doubt, cynicism (20)

Democracy, liberalism                                       Non involvement, objective (94-97)

Product of his environment                                            Selfish, indecisive, egocentric (59)

Commitment                                                                 Objective distance reporting (113,                                                                                            119, 150, uses opium 151)

                                                                                    Fowler is the unreliable narrator

Falsely heroic? Why?                                                    because of his prejudices and

(back cover)                                                                 motives for betraying Pyle are am-

                                                                                    biguous.   He is annoyed at the loss

                                                                                    of Phuong.  He describes himself as

                                                                                    the cuckold who must not show his

                                                                                    pain;”  he suspect he is inventing

                                                                                    Pyle’s character.  He lies (121)

Fear of death? Belief in God (15, 60, 80, 105, 189)

                                                                                    Resents American culture (31)

New World (41, 78)                                                    Old World (40)


Thomas Fowler – doubting Thomas!  He doubts God’s existence.  He is an agent of death because he knowingly directs Pyle to a place where he knows Hen will kill him.  Fowler is very complex:  (1) he acts as an instrument of justice and humanity, (2) he takes sides in a war he had tried to see objectively, neutrally, (3) he betrays a man who saved his life, (4) he kills a rival.




·        The setting is exotic, primitive and violent—where the pure emotion of violence brings together the primitive and modern worlds.

·        Decay – yet fecundity

·        Urban wasteland

·        Political turmoil parallels turmoil in Fowler


Symbols and Conventions:


·        Tower – Fowler observes from a high a remote vantage point; detachment


·        Room from above Rue Catinat


·        Canal full of bodies


·        Phuong – both see her as a two-dimensional flat character; invisible; sexual object


·        Love triangle between Pyle, Fowler and Phuong – Father (Fowler and Europe) and Son (Pyle and America) – love triangle becomes Oedipal (36-37, 58, 182)


Fowler                                                             Pyle

Childless                                                           Youth

Age and experience                                          Hope, innocence

Despair                                                            Seriousness

Oedipal reference (182)

Old World                                                        New World

Unproductive Wisdom                          Enthusiastic, thoughtless initiative


Structure of the Novel (A detective story)


·        Significance of the poems at the beginning of the book

·        Part I – Fowler meets Pyle

·        Part II – Pyle saves Fowler

·        Part III – Pyle steals Phuong; shocks Fowler with bomb

·        Part IV – Fowler plots to kill Pyle