Anyone know about the symbolism in ‘A Quiet American’ by Graham Greene? Pyle represents the idealistic New Age America, thirsty for heroism. Phuong represents pre-war Vietnam, passive, innocent.
What exactly does Fowler represent? Is it the wisdom and world-weariness of Old Europe or Britain’s involvement in the war simply for personal gain? The symbolism of the individual characters has to be placed within the context of colonialism, since that was the relationship between the nations they each represented. Pyle's motives are far from heroic. An idealism that is motivated by interventionism in a Third World country's affairs can be dangerous and destructive, not only in the way Graham Greene saw it in the early fifties, but as history proved it by the events that unfolded years later, leading to the US war in Viet Nam. Or for what is happening now in Iraq, if you will. Fowler had the "old colonialist" wisdom that questioned Pyle's justification for violence. He had already learned that "democracy" is something many countries neither understand nor want, and any foreign attempt to impose it is doomed to failure. I don't know that this helps, but I can't see the novel any other way.
Outline of characters
Thomas Fowler is a British journalist in his fifties who has been covering the French war in Viet Nam for over two years. He meets a young American idealist named Alden Pyle, who is a student of York Harding. Harding's theory is that neither Communism nor colonialism are the answer in foreign lands like Viet Nam, but rather a "Third Force," usually a combination of traditions, works best. Unlike most Americans, Pyle is thoughtful and soft-spoken. Fowler finds him naïve.
Alden Pyle is the "quiet American" of the title. He is the opposite of a stereotypical American abroad: the loud obnoxious American in a Hawaiian shirt with a camera. Instead Pyle is thoughtful and intellectual, serious and principled. He comes from a fine East Coast background. His father is a renowned professor of underwater erosion who has appeared on the cover of Time magazine; his mother is well respected in their community. Pyle is a brilliant graduate of Harvard University. He has studied theories of government and society, and is particularly devoted to a scholar named York Harding. He has read Harding's numerous books many times and has absorbed Harding's thinking as his own
‘The Quiet American’ review, Graham Greene.
Although the novel is a political picture of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, these details enrich rather than encumber the reading experience. An older journalist, Fowler, revisits the love entanglement involving his mistress Phuong and Pyle, a zealous and idealistic journalist. Fowler’s role as a correspondent aids the first-person narration as he recounts without taking sides. His point of view is a springboard to show how personal responsibility overlaps with global considerations.
Pyle, described as a ‘quiet American’ is a symbol of America’s insidious impact upon Vietnam’s history. He orchestrates a Third Force to battle Ho Chi Minh’s forces and the French and her allies. In the early stages of the novel, Pyle’s innocence is described with a sense of foreboding: ‘Go in and find a table. I had better look after Pyle.’ That was my first instinct-to protect him. It never occurred to me that there was greater need to protect myself. Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.’ 36
The unreality of war--the emotional distance between military and civilian is captured by this theme of innocence. Actions performed without regard to effect show the lack of understanding. Chilling imagery is conjured by Greene’s sparse writing style. A metaphoric depiction of bodies strewn in a ditch as an Irish stew haunts the reader. It represents a hodgepodge...
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