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The Quiet American

  • Study Guide
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title The Quiet American

author  Graham Greene

type of work  Novel

genre  Political fiction; anti-war novel; satire

language  English

time and place written  Greene wrote the book during stays in Saigon’s Hotel Continental between March 1952 and June 1955.

date of first publication  1955

publisher  William Heinemann

narrator  Thomas Fowler narrates The Quiet American after the main events of the novel have already taken place.

point of view The Quiet American is told entirely from Fowler’s first-person point of view. Fowler’s narrative primarily focuses on his own thoughts and experiences, but he frequently speculates on the thoughts and motives of other characters as well, particularly of Pyle and Phuong.

tone  Fowler’s narration is ironic and sometimes vitriolic when it pertains to Pyle. However, when it pertains to Phuong or his own life and experience, Fowler’s narration is often serious and melancholy.

tense  Past tense, though the narrative moves back and forth between the events that follow Pyle’s death and the events that lead up to it

setting (time)  Early 1950s

setting (place)  Vietnam

protagonist  Thomas Fowler

major conflict  The major conflict in The Quiet American plays out between the cynical and ironic Englishman, Thomas Fowler, and the sincere and serious American, Alden Pyle.

rising action  As Pyle threatens to take Phuong away from Fowler, and as his involvement in the politics of the region become clear, the American’s interventionist goals increasingly come into conflict with Fowler and his commitment to impartiality.

climax  When Fowler stands at his window and gives the signal that sets the plan to kill Pyle in motion, he can no longer pretend to be a disengaged or neutral observer e has made a direct intervention in the political landscape.

falling action  After giving the signal, Fowler deeply questions what he has done, but he is unable to confess his involvement to Phuong or to the French inspector Vigot.

themes  The danger of “innocence”; The impossibility of remaining neutral; The insufficiency of abstract thinking

motifs  Religion; Life like a movie; Virginity

symbols  The dice game 421; Books by York Harding; The rue Catinat

foreshadowing  Fowler’s repeated claim that he is innocent in the opening chapter; Fowler’s reference to the “big bang” (i.e., the explosion in the Place Garnier) and the economic attaché’s reference to Pyle’s “special duties” (i.e., his covert involvement in an American intelligence mission