Graham Greene- Breaking the Rules


"Many adjectives have been used to describe the novels and plays of Graham Greene - timely, religious, melodramatic, even "seedy"" (Graham Greene, A Collection of Critical Essays, back cover). Although this may not be entirely true in Greene*s other work, it is certainly true in his novel, The Quiet American. The Quiet American is judged as one of Greene*s "entertainments" that include comedies, spy fiction, and thrillers that take place in foreign countries (Introduction). According to World Literature Critics editor, James P. Draper,
The Quiet American is set in South Vietnam and anticipates U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict. The novel*s protagonist, Alden Pyle, who is ignorant of Oriental culture, is depicted as a symbol of American arrogance (1537).
Written in 1955, The Quiet American is a tale of a young American who is now dead because of his personal involvement in the French-Vietminh war. A British reporter, Fowler, tells the story from his point of view. Fowler and Pyle were both in love with the same woman, Phuong. Phuong first started off as Fowler*s girlfriend, but when she realized he could not give her what she wanted, children, because of his wife who will not divorce him because of religious reasons, she leaves for Pyle. Fowler and Pyle still remain friends, but Fowler always carries some envy for Pyle*s youth and confidence. Fowler is against personal involvement in the war and when he realizes that Pyle is supplying plastic bomb materials to a "third force," he discourages him. Even then, Pyle does not listen and Fowler kills him indirectly. While the novel*s theme lies in the issue of personal involvement, the relationship of Fowler, Pyle, the American, and Phoung, a Chinese woman, is also described in detail. Greene represents himself through the British reporter, Fowler, and shows his opposition to personal involvement. While not getting involved himself, Fowler keeps a keen eye on Pyle. However, when Fowler finds Pyle selling material for plastic bombs secretly, he indirectly murders him before the situation becomes larger and messier.
One thing Fowler does that shows his opposition towards personal involvement in the war is avoid personal involvement himself. He himself, as a reporter, has a professional career that could thrust him into getting involved frequently. However, Fowler tries to report about the war without too much personal involvement (Anonymous) because he believes that a commoner like himself has no business in the war and getting involved would only cause harm, rather than good. Upholding this belief, Fowler turns down the assignments that he thinks require too much involvement.
Another thing Fowler does to show his opposition towards personal involvement in the war is preventing other people in the war. When it became apparent that Pyle was supplying materials for plastic bombs to the "third force," Fowler discourages him, or tries his best to do so. However, Fowler thinks that this is not good enough because when Pyle goes on with his actions, Fowler indirectly kills him.
By killing Pyle, Fowler can be seen as something of a hypocrite because he has just gotten himself involved in the war, the reason Fowler had killed Pyle for in the first place. However, this may not be entirely the case. Personal involvement in the war could be an excuse and the real reason could be the fact that Fowler is jealous of Pyle. Phuong had left Fowler for Pyle and Fowler could have been trying to get her back by eliminating Pyle. "Greene does explore real pain and unhappiness and not always solely in his protagonists" (Spurling).
The whole novel is consisted of Greene*s political opinions. According to Samuel Hynes, editor of Graham Greene, A Collection of Critical Essays, Greene*s works
are contemporary in their political content. Greene himself describes his work as being first political, then Catholic, and then political again, distinguishing early novels such as It*s a Battlefield and later novels such as The Quiet American from the major religious works of his middle period, Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, and The Heart of the Matter.
Greene showed his opinions by representing himself through Fowler. He wrote Fowler as if he were himself. This is shown by two facts, that Fowler is a reporter and he is British. Greene himself was a