A political study

  • surveys the political climate of the 1950s
  • exposes the political mess of Vietnam in the 1950s
  • pinpoints the start of the US involvement which eventually led to the Vietnam War of the 1960s
  • analysis of US foreign policy (‘save Asia for democracy’ and the ‘Domino’ theory) – Pyle’s assertions of what he’s doing in Vietnam contrasted with Fowler’s anti-American or internationalist argument

Crime fiction (mystery / thriller / whodunit)

  • title character is reported dead in chapter 1
  • police investigation
  • flashback narrative – reveals the larger story of Vietnam and America
  • to understand Pyle’s death we need the whole story – Pyle and his mission, the love triangle, Fowler and Pyle, Fowler and Phoung
  • Fowler sense of guilt gives the novel an intense psychological focus

A love story

  • Green seems to suggest that love for the central characters is an illusion
  • a study of male and female relationships and the idea of ‘love’, but Greene’s view of love is not romantic
  • Pyle is romantic but portrayed as ‘naive’ and who confuses love with his youthful idealism
  • Fowler is too cynical and a refugee from love
  • for Phuong, love is comfort / settlement / bettering herself
  • all want love and all are disappointed
  • perhaps the ultimate act of love is Helen’s consent to a divorce
  • love remains an ideal
  • no ‘happy ending’ – the ending is ironic – Green ‘pretends’ there is a happy ending

A moral and philosophical debate

  • idealism – is it worthwhile or deluded?
  • the power of love – is it a blessing or a curse or both?
  • happiness – can anyone who really understands life be happy?
  • death – is it a terror or a relief from life’s torments?
  • does the end justify the means – the oldest of political debates; e.g. is violence justified by noble ends?
Given its various genres, how do the different genres unify the novel as a whole?
Which genre - if any - do you feel is given emphasis?
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