The Quiet American intro - English-Units 3 & 4-BCH

Overview of context, characters, setting, structure and plot
Set in Saigon, 1950s during the French Indochina War.
It is told from the perspective of the English journalist Thomas Fowler.
The story is about betraying principles and getting involved.
In the novel Greene explores the shades of grey that occur in conflict.
Exploring the fact no one is completely innocent of inflicting harm upon another.
Greene uses Fowler to explore the idea that it is the innocent who are most
capable of hurting others due to their ignorance. Psychology of moral dilemma.
In the end Greene concludes that people must take responsibility for their action
or inaction – neither is right, they are both choices which result in hurt and death.
Juxtaposed ideas – non-involvement v’s action. Neutrality v’s commitment.
Prior to WW2, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam (Indochina) were colonies of
France. During the war they were overtaken by Japan, and then at the end of the
war France regained governance.
The French Indochina War was fought between Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam for
their independence from France. Began 1946 and ended August 1954.
A Quiet America is set immediately before the Vietnam War.
They were a coalition formed in 1941 to fight for Vietnamese independence.
Their leader was Ho Chi Minh. They were communist.
The French Indochina War was fought between the Viet Minh and the French.
Vietnam War: French Indochina War was overtaken by the Vietnam War which
began in 1955 and ended in 1975.
• After reading the novel what is your
impression of Saigon?
• In the Indochina War who are you more
likely to sympathise with and why?
• Can anyone remain an objective observer?
Fowler is symbolic of the old world – cynical
and despairing believing people are corrupt it
is human nature
Cynical narrator who has made a career out of
being a bystander.
He has embraced non-involvement as a mode
of existence.
Detaches himself from the events around him
Left his wife (Helen) in England after being
unfaithful. Escapes to Vietnam
As an Englishman in the Indochina War he
regarded as neutral. This is a symbol of how
he regards himself.
He is having a relationship with Phuong, a
young Vietnamese woman. He regards her as
a possession. Phuong unable to speak English
is divorced from Fowler’s life and work.
He is an atheist – this is part of his
cynicism fundamental to his character.
His name is a symbol of his character –
Thomas= doubting Thomas.
He believes the only absolute thing in life
is death, he says he welcomes it however,
like many of his other ideals he is afraid
of it.
Fowlers detached and well-order existence
is disturbed by Pyle.
Fowler is world-weary
The audience fail to sympathise with
Through Fowler the audience learn that
inactivity is as despicable reaction to
conflict as action.
Symbolic of the new world – American,
idealistic, naïve and clumsy
Complete opposite to the narrator –
young and idealistic V’s Old and
Describes as having “schoolboy
Ironically his name Alden means old and
Eager to get involved – war, Phuong but
he insists on a need to “play fair”.
They both discuss Phuong’s future in her
absence but it Phuong who ultimately
Pyle has an idealised view of the
world and is detached from reality.
This idealism gets him caught up
in plastic explosives (symbol of the
plastic new world) but his is naïve
and detonates the bomb in the
market place. Surrounded by dead
bodies he is only concerned with
cleaning the blood off his shoes.
Pyle believes he is clean, innocent
of his own actions and for that
reason Fowler decides Pyle is too
innocent and naïve to live.
Symbol for Asia beautiful and in
danger with the capacity to rise.
Centre of the love triangle
Objectified by Pyle and Fowler.
Pyle sees her as childlike and
unable to make her own decisions.
Fowler sees her much more
For Fowler she is an escape – she
prepares his opium pipes so he can
escape reality. Her skins is even
the colour of opium resin – amber.
She cannot speak English
Her name means Phoenixmythical bird. She is the only one
who does rise from the wreckage
of the world around them.
She is not destroyed by those
around her.
See lives day to day, refuses to be a
Miss Hei: Phuong’s sister, interested in material comfort. Speaks and reads English,
uses her talents to make a living. She too refuses to be a victim.
Vigot: French detective. Portrayed as a sensitive man, well learnt. Not sorry Pyle is
dead. He knows the purpose of life and for him it is to find the truth. Greene uses
Vigot to represent truth in contrast to Fowler who struggles with the concept of
Mr Heng: Responsible for the death of Pyle. He believes that it is impossible to be a
bystander in conflict if one is to remain human. To survive Heng supports Mr Chou
‘like rats’. Fowler is cynical is Heng and his associations with these rat like animals
but it is in fact Fowler who is like an animal not Heng.
Captain Trouin: Pilot who drops napalm on villages. He is dismissive of Fowler’s
detachment from the war, Trouin knows the war can not be won, but he is a
professional soldier. Takes Fowler to a prostitute but Fowler is impotent, in contrast
to Trouin.
Constructed in four parts written in a circular narrative.
Part 1 – directs the audience to the relationship between Pyle and Fowler. Pyle
declares his love for Phuong and the complication is established.
Part 2 – Explores the complication between Pyle, Fowler and Phuong. Phuong
leaves with Pyle. Fowler is affected by the war around him, he cannot maintain
his cynical detachment. Afraid of death and becomes involved with the living.
Part 3 – Climax, Phuong has left Fowler, Fowler confronts Pyle. Heng shows
Fowler the destruction Pyle is creating with his “plastic”. Ends with the carnage
in the marketplace. Pyle cannot comprehend that it is his ignorance which is
Part 4 – Resolution, Makes a pact with Mr Heng who has killed Pyle. Phuong
moves back with Fowler, It seems as though everything is back to the beginning
“It’s like it used to be,” I lied “a year ago.” Except now Fowler is even more
unsure of his motives.
Saigon which appear to be separate from the war – consumed by social activity –
western – drinking and dancing.
Dancing is a symbol for the thin veneer of civilisation and of façade. Pyle and
Fowler are bad dancers (symbol).
When in the country Fowler contrasts the horror of war with the softness and
natural beauty of the landscape.
In the countryside Fowler describes the dead bodies in the river like ‘meat’.
When in the city and confronted by the same thing he feels he has to act.
• Both implicit and explicit. On a societal and personal level.
• Personal
• Interpersonal
• Political
• Economic
• Cultural
• Ideologies
• Romantic
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