The Quiet American: a Political Warning by Graham Greene
The Quiet American: a Political Warning by Graham Greene
The Quiet American by Graham Greene is a novel that depicts a love triangle between a British journalist, an American secret agent and a Vietnamese girl in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It came out in the mid fifties when the American government was not directly involved in the War. The novel generated critics from both sides of the spectrum such as Walter Allen with his review titled “Awareness of Evil: Graham Greene” and Robert Gorham Davies with his review called “In our Time No Man is a Neutral”.
On the one hand Americans viewed this novel as an Anti-American piece that offered an erroneous picture of US policy towards Vietnam. This is the perspective of Davies who believes that Greene in his book is offering a wrong description of American ideals in international affairs. On the other hand, the novel was viewed, as a warning for what US policy towards Vietnam would bring and how it would impact Vietnamese people. This view is embraced by Allen who sees the novel as statement of what a lot people think of American policies in the international arena.
In fact the novel place a love story during war times that illustrates the complicated relationship that Vietnam, France, Great Britain and the US had at that time. In fact, the Quiet American is a fictional novel that effectively communicates the political struggle of the Vietnam War. Graham Greene through his characters and their story exposes how American foreign policy would affect Vietnam. He diffuses his message in the dialogues and events that take place in the novel. For example, in the first chapter of the book Fowler description of Pyle resemble a lot to what England thought of the US.
In this description he refers to Pyle’s “dilemma of Democracy” and the way the American just as his nation feel it has a responsibility to do “good”. In this description he also implies that Pyle similarly to the US has the capability to do so. Additionally, the narrative of the book is one sided and is based on the perspective of Fowler. The character himself takes pride in not taking any position and only reporting facts. This can be interpreted as the position that the British adopted during the Vietnam War.
An example of this is present in the first chapter of the third part of the book, when Fowler is having a discussion with a French pilot whom is trying to convince him to take a side and get involved. This situation perfectly illustrates a real political situation that could have taken place in Europe where the French Imperialist government is suggesting that its British counterpart should also get involved in Asia. In transition, the turning point of the novel is the bombing event, which reveals the real purpose of Pyle being in Vietnam.
At this point Fowler understands what Pyle has been there for and from that point on make the decisions that he needs to get involved by getting rid of Pyle. The mind state of Fowler is best describe by the inner conversation that he holds in which he describes Pyle as “innocent” and correlates his attitudes to that of his country. He believes firmly that Pyle just like his country does not realize what the cost of their actions would cause. Therefore, he decides to go ahead and plot to get him killed.
Moreover, Allen states that at the time when the book appeared, a large amount of people identified with the judgment of Fowler towards Pyle behaviors. He asserts that this view described what people felt about US foreign policies. Allen also justifies Fowler’s actions by making reference to this “Quiet American” policy that his causing damages in the name of democracy. Conversely, Davies expresses his the American response to the argument that most of the American policymakers held to the argument given by Greene.
He states that rather then describing a fictional story; Greene through the role of Fowler and Pyle is expressing his Anti-American views. Davies continues by trying to prove that Greene holds communist views. He does so by correlating the event in the book with the communist agenda that eliminating democratic factions. Davies, exhibits the same idea that American policymakers held at this time, which was that communism, was not to be spread in this Vietnam or it would overtake other neighboring countries.
Furthermore, the Quiet American characters relationship can be viewed as the relationship between their respective countries. In fact, Fowler, Pyle and Phuong exhibit the same attributes that England, the US and Vietnam have on the political stages at the time. In essence, Fowler represents old aristocratic England and does not believe in God or any other mystical concept. He only believes in facts and account for them. Pyle represents the young American that is in a new land of problem whom thinks that the ideal solution is to push for a new set of values, democracy.
He certainly does not know much about Vietnam cultural history and believes that democratic ideals are to be adopted at all costs, for the overall prosperity of Vietnamese people. Phuong the young Vietnamese girl is gorgeous and careless about the urgency of things. Her only concern is to move away from misery and the course of action she and her family chooses is to get married to a successful foreigner. This depiction mirrors the image of Vietnam during the war, a young territory, which is at the center of the dispute between Europeans, and Americans, which is trying to find its place in the world.
Moreover, the way Fowler and Pyle perceive and act with Phuong is similar in a sense to the way English policymakers, European Imperialist and American policymakers view and act towards Vietnam. That is Fowler thinks of her, as his companion that is there to serve his desire. He views Phuong as inferior and needing guidance. Whereas, Pyle thinks Phuong would be better off being a housewife in the American way by providing for her and building a family with her. Phuong on her side is not given much space to express what she feels because in either case she is not the decider of her own fate, just as is Vietnam in this war.
In summary, Graham Greene, in The Quiet American, makes the argument that the US is engaging itself in Vietnam in an effort to stop Communism. Through this story he gives his position on the Cold War that the US is taking part in, with the Soviet Union. His argument is centered on the way in which the US, which is new to this form of imperialist, is assuming its status of superpowers. Greene is proposing in a sense what would be the dominant political response of England to the foreign policy of the United States.
Through the actions of his characters he reveals an important struggle that is visible in the world political arena. This is the struggle of two clashing ideals; the old aristocratic way of England against the new modern American way. This is visible in the way Fowler and Pyle behave toward their common love Phuong. In essence, he tries to convey the overall English approach to this US foreign policy that England judges unwise and not beneficial to Vietnamese people. Thus, for Greene this quiet American policy has to be reformed or eliminated because like Pyle it is somewhat insane.