By Gerard Chretien
Prof: Morgan Shulz
Insight to Quiet American
For those who haven't read the book, its both an odd love story and a metaphor for American involvement in Vietnam. The hero, Fowler is a washed up, middle aged, English war correspondent, content with his opium pipe and his Vietnamese mistress, Phuong. His world is gradually disrupted by the arrival of an American covert operative named Pyle who is both a zealous ideologue and naïve optimists. Things get complicated when Pyle steals Phuong away from Fowler, yet attempts to remain friends with him. The normally indifferent Fowler soon becomes morally repulsed by Pyle's seemingly well intended terrorists activities, and gradually becomes politically involved. By the time Fowler helps to engineer Pyle's murder it is unclear even to him whether he is doing so to help the Vietnamese people or to win Phuong back.
The book offers several different concepts. For one, it seems to examine the peculiar morality of love. Fowler and Phuong form a strange symbiosis. Fowler is estranged from is English wife, and is old enough to be Phuong's father. His affection for her is unbashedly sexual and certainly not made for day TV in the US. Phuong's attachment to both Fowler and Pyle is based more on practical reasons than on love. Greene never passes judgement any of the trio. And when Fowler wins Phuong back in the end, he is left-like so many of us-with a lingering doubt about his motives and actions.
Another equally interesting point is Greene's exploration of the politics of southeast Asia in the 1950's and particularly, the shifting balance of power from European colonialism to American military and economic involvement. As the French wrap up their losing streak, the Americans enter the scene with blind stupidity, you can't help but cringe at disaster to come.
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