Essay Topics

In your answer make detailed reference to the novel as a whole and support your point of view with well-chosen illustrative evidence.

Questions on characters and relationships, the text’s structure, settings, narrative viewpoint, language features and conventions.

  1. Why is Fowler so antagonistic towards Pyle?

  2. “Was I so different from Pyle . . .” Fowler wondered. Are Fowler and Pyle very different people?

  3. ‘Fowler presents himself as a selfish and uncaring man.’ Is this how the reader finally sees him?

  4. How do the flashbacks in the novel affect our understanding of the major characters and their conflicts?

  5. ‘The dual motifs of the view from the tower and the view from the ground – the distant and the close-up – are central to the novel’. Discuss.

  6. ‘All of the main characters in The Quiet American are victims, in some way or another.’ Discuss.

  7. ‘The reader’s judgement of characters and their actions is coloured by the narrator’s perspective.’ Do you agree?

  8. ‘The impression presented by the title of The Quiet American is misleading.’ Do you agree?

  9. “Was I so different from Pyle, I wondered? Must I too have my foot thrust in the mess of life before I saw the pain?” Is Fowler right to believe that there is little to separate himself and Pyle?

  10. ‘Pyle wants to save the world; Fowler only wants to save himself.’ Discuss.

  11. ‘Alden Pyle is dangerous, but he does not deserve his ultimate fate.’ Do you agree?

  12. ‘Pyle’s innocence is also a form of blindness that has fatal consequences.’ Discuss.

  13. ‘They killed him because he was too innocent to live.’ Do you agree with this assessment of Pyle’s fate?

  14. ‘Fowler’s decision that Pyle must die is driven by jealousy rather than a sense of justice.’ Discuss.

  15. ‘Miss Hei describes Pyle as “a nice reliable man”.’ Do you agree?

  16. ‘Fowler’s determination to remain uninvolved is ultimately fruitless, as even inaction is a form of action.’ Discuss.

  17. ‘Fowler prides himself on his disengagement, yet he is not the only one who attempts to ‘ turn a blind eye ’ to what is going on around him. ’ To what extent is this an accurate assessment of the characters in The Quiet American ?

  18. ‘To outward appearances, Fowler seems cynical and world-weary, but deep down he is passionate and emotional.’ Discuss.

  19. ‘ “One never knows another human being.” Fowler is a detached cynic who does not try to understand others.’ Do you agree?

  20. ‘Despite claiming to be “not engagé”, Fowler has a strong sense of the sacredness of life.’ Do you agree?

  21. ‘ “I wished there was someone to whom I could say sorry”, Fowler remarks at the end of the novel.’ Why does he feel this way?

  22. ‘Fowler claims to have “never desired faith” yet we see him struggling to acknowledge the spiritual dimension in life.’ Do you agree?

  23. ‘Fowler behaves badly, yet we continue to sympathise with him.’ How does the text encourage this response from us?

  24. Fowler tells Pyle, ‘She’s no child. She’s tougher than you’ll ever be.” How accurate is Fowler’s opinion of Phuong?

  25. Fowler reflects: “Unfortunately the innocent are always involved in any conflict.” Discuss.

  26. “Pyle said, ‘You’d play straight with me, Thomas, wouldn’t you?’”
    The Quiet American presents a world where nobody can “play straight” with anybody else.’ Do you agree?

  27. ‘Although Fowler and Pyle love Phuong, they fail to understand her and the world she comes from.’ Discuss.

  28. “You can rule me out,” I said. “I’m not involved. Not involved.” To what extent does this attitude govern Fowler’s actions in the novel?

Questions on themes, ideas and values, and responding to a point of view or an interpretation

  1. “Nobody can go on living without some belief.” ‘The Quiet American shows that beliefs and ideals are always moderated by reality.’ Discuss.

  2. The Quiet American demonstrates that in dangerous times the powerful will sacrifice the powerless to advance their own causes.” Discuss.

  3. “ ‘Sooner or later,’ Heng said . . . ‘one has to take sides. If one is to remain human’.”
    The Quiet American demonstrates that one must have principles, especially in times of crisis.’ Discuss.

  4. The Quiet American demonstrates that love is powerful enough to triumph over cultural differences.’ Discuss.

  5. The Quiet American is about pain, not the joy of life.’ Discuss.

  6. “War and Love – they have always been compared.”
    The Quiet American suggests that war and love can be compared.’ Discuss.

  7. ‘Sooner or Later, one has to take sides, if one is to remain human.’ Discuss.

  8. ‘What appears to be just a love story becomes a cautionary tale on the dangers of embracing simple solutions for complex problems.’ Discuss.

  9. The Quiet American explores the conflict between personal and public politics to show the dangers of simplistic solutions for complex problems.’ Discuss.

  10. The Quiet American shows that the truth is always open to interpretation.’ Discuss.

  11. The Quiet American shows that we can only see the truth that our personal perspective allows us to see.’ Discuss.

  12. ‘ Greene suggests that in order to see things clearly we must observe them at close range.’ Discuss.

  13. “The Quiet American shows how deception corrupts personal and political values.” Discuss.

  14. The Quiet American shows how easily high ideals can become corrupted.” Discuss.

  15. The Quiet American shows that idealism can be a destructive force.’ Discuss.

  16. The Quiet American demonstrates how deeply a conflict in values can affect personal relationships.’ Discuss.

  17. The Quiet American demonstrates the constant human tension between ‘sin’ and the wish for forgiveness.’ Discuss.

  18. The Quiet American shows that while neutrality might seem to be acceptable, in the end a moral person must become involved.’ Discuss.

  19. The Quiet American shows that the desire to remain detached is ultimately impossible.’ Discuss.

  20. The Quiet American suggests that violence can never be justified.’ Discuss.

  21. The Quiet American explores the connection between the personal and political sides of people.’ Discuss.

  22. ‘Greene stresses the danger of innocence in a complex and difficult society like Vietnam.’ Discuss.

  23. ‘Despite Phuong’s fondness for Fowler, she leaves him for Pyle.’ Is pragmatism not loyalty the way to guarantee survival in our world?

  24. The Quiet American suggests that political choices are always influenced by personal desires.’ Discuss.

  25. The Quiet American demonstrates that questions of innocence and guilt become more complex in times of war.’ Discuss
The Quiet American : An English website unit developed by George Marootus with additional material by VATE and contributions by Bianca de Vos and Sam Bryant. Website designed and constructed by George Marotous.
Contact.© English Faculty, Melbourne High School. 12 July 2010