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Quiet American, The

The Quiet American, The End of the Affair

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog to Rabbit Tetralogy

a novel by Graham Greene, published in 1955 and set during France's military struggle to retain Vietnam, which Greene witnessed during trips to the country as a journalist in the early 1950s. His nearly lifelong antipathy to the USA and readier sympathy for communist regimes figure in the novel's prescient warning about early American infiltration of Vietnam. This focuses on Alden Pyle, a young diplomat naïvely convinced of the validity of American foreign policy, free to draw on extensive military resources, and eventually unrepentantly responsible for horrifying civilian casualties in Saigon. Readers know from the novel's first pages that Pyle himself has been killed, but it is only gradually, in his account of earlier events, that the narrator, Thomas Fowler, reveals his complicity in this murder—a teasing unravelling which adds conviction to Greene's view that The Quiet American is more successful technically than The End of the Affair (1951). The use of Fowler—like Greene, a seasoned foreign correspondent—also helps explain the novel's extensive reportage: its detail and restrained clarity communicate military violence with some of the hard immediacy of Ernest Hemingway. The detachment of the reporter, however, eventually gives way, through Fowler's contact with Pyle, to a conviction that ‘one must take sides’—a position complicated by Pyle's appropriation of Fowler's Annamite mistress Phuong. Although Catholicism has faded as an interest since The End of the Affair, apart from occasional echoes in Pyle's debates with Fowler, the ambivalence of the latter's narrative ensures that the novel remains highly complex morally. Its issues of political engagement and responsibility share repeated concerns of 1950s writing: later generations of critics interested in post-colonial literature may concentrate on Greene's vivid depiction of late colonial conflict and his use of this political struggle as a context for the examination of individuals' moral concerns.

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