British cold war novel - Graham Greenes The quiet american

A realistic report? Parallels between the autors life and the novel

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2012

8 Seiten, Note: 2,0


Table of Contents

l. Introduction

2. Outline of the story

3. Historical facts

4. A view on the characters

5. The opium habit

6. The movies

7. Analysis

1. Introduction

In the analysis of this novel there is a lot of ways of looking at it, even from the religious p.o.v. Because catholicism is mentioned every few pages. After all that is not the topic of this essay. It is always a little strange for a literary student to look for similarities in the story described in the book and the authors life, because there may be none - in this case it seemed useful to do since Graham Greene himself went to Indochina often times as a correspondent, and a correspondent in Indochina is the main character in the novel „The quiet american“.

During my research and writing this homework I realised that this is not the only similarity between the novel and reality.

This novel is probably the one closest to reality that Greene ever wrote.

2. Outline of the story

The Quiet American tells the story of a young american, Pyle, working for the CIA, who is murdered in order of Thomas Fowler, a british war correspondent in Saigon. Pyle dreamt of a „third force“ in the conflict of Indochina – a fact that may have been one reason for the murder. Fowler discovered that Pyle is has supplied arms to a terrorist group which is supposed to be an american-friendly „third force“. Furthermore Fowler and Pyle were rivals for the same women, Phuong.

Fowler claims to be not guilty when the police-chief Vigot asks him for a statement. What follows is the reconstruction of Fowlers relationship towards Pyle and Phuong. In the end of the novel Fowler commits guilt.

There is a lot of reports on the French war in Vietnam which are connected to Graham Greenes visits to the country between l95l and l955.

3. Historical facts

„Perhaps there is more direct reportage in The quiet american than in any other novel I have written“ states Graham Greene himself in his 300 biography „Ways of escape“l.

The first time Graham Greene went to Indochina in the winter of l95l was an incidental journey from an assignment in Malaya for Life magazine to visit his friend the british coucil in Hanoi, Trevor Wilson. He went to Indochina every winter until his last visit to Hanoi in l955 after the defeat of the French.

Life magazine rejected what he wrote because of his ambivalent attitude to the war, that was already perceptable as well as his doubt of any final value in the war.2

Graham Greene stated in conversations, that the americans dreamt of a third force beeing involved in the conflict, a force apart 400 the coloniastic french on the one and the communists on the other side.

Greene even maintained that the enormous explosion in Saigon in l95l was not caused by communists rather than by Caodists under the command of colonal Thé, who in this case formed the third force – and that americans gave him the plastic explosive to support a third force.3

Furthermore the author Graham Greene seemed not to think very different of the war as the protagonist Pyle does. Greene himself witnessed a attack on a houseboat and even the senseless attack and assasination of innocent civilians. In the real Indochina conflict the

„third force“ was what later, when the americans became the Vietcong.

4. A View on the Characters


It is highly probalble that Fowler is the equivalent to Graham Greene because there are a lot of similarities beween those two. They are both english correspontents, they both share the opinion that the war is unnessesary. There is even a sense of interest for the enemy and for communism in the character of Fowler, same as it was in the character of Graham Greene. It is said that Greene was interested in communism as a political dispiline. As Greene chooses Fowler to be the narrator of the story it is even more likely that he sees himself as Fowler.

Fowler may be cynical, but he is not naive, he may be old, but he is experienced and that is what makes him beeing ahead of Pyle.

The relationship between Pyle and Fowler is sometimes a little funny, this is were the reader gets a taste of Greenes humor. In some ways

„The Quiet american“ is when Greene dicovered a little of his comedy sense in writing.4


Pyle is another important character in „the quiet american“ and forms a triangle of protagonists togheter with Fowler and Phoung. Pyle is from the american embassy but known to be CIA. In contrast to Fowler he is a rather naive character, unexperienced and in some ways very awkward. He is not very good in catching the irony of a man like Fowler.

In fact, Pyle is the „queit american“ himself, in a double sense. On one hand does not speak very much on the other hand he is very quiet at the end of the book because he is dead – killed on behalf of Fowler. Pyle is an american, harvard graduated person, a professors son, has 700 understanding of the far east and admires the works of York Harding, particularly his book „The advance of Red China“. Pyle tries to adapt Hardings view on the Indochina conflict and causes the disaster by

– agent Edward Lansdale, who was stationed in Saigon from l954 – l9575. It is likely that Greene met him in that period of time.

Colonel Edward Landsdale might have had influenced the first movie adaptation of the novel, which made Pyle an american hero in Vietnam.

5. The opium habit

A big part of „The quiet american“ is what Graham Greene really experienced in his time in Indochina, he merely took it out of his own journals and memorys. The Opium habit is Fowlers habit, and since this is the character closest to Greene, it seemed reasonable to ask: did the author himself smoke opium while in Indochina? The answer is: Yes, he did. Graham Greene describes this in his autobiography, that smoking Opium has left the happiest memory of the winters he passed in Indochina.


l Graham Greene „Ways of escape“ London, l980

2 Judith Adamson: Graham Greene: „The dangerous Edge – Where art and politica meet“ London, l990.

3 Ronald Matthews „Conversations with Graham Greene“ Zsolnay Verlag Hamburg l957, p. 334.

4 Neil Mc Ewan: Graham Greene, London l988.

shaping a „third force“. It has been stated that he character of Pyle is shaped after the real CIA

Ende der Leseprobe aus 8 Seiten


British cold war novel - Graham Greenes The quiet american
A realistic report? Parallels between the autors life and the novel
Freie Universität Berlin  (Englisches Seminar)
ISBN (eBook)
363 KB
Graham Greene, The quiet american, Indochina, Vietnam Cold war, Third force, Cold war, Pyle
Arbeit zitieren
Christian Köller (Autor:in), 2012, British cold war novel - Graham Greenes The quiet american , München, GRIN Verlag,


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