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The Quiet American: An Ironic Historical Criticism.

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The Quiet American: An Ironic Historical Criticism By Mitchell McIlwain (Reviewer for "Viewpoint") Graham Greene's novel "The Quiet American" is set amidst the turbulent backdrop of French Indo-China in the early 1950's. It is a political thriller and is extremely effective in highlighting the conflicting political views of the time and the extraordinary lengths people will go to in defending what they believe in. The author's viewpoint is quite ironic given this novel was written between 1952 and 1954, almost a decade before America's full scale involvement in Vietnam. It is a very honest and compelling historical account in which Greene comments on power, human nature, political ideologies, social class, race and gender amongst other things. Each of them will be addressed in turn. Power is exerted by several groups and in different ways throughout the novel. The communist party are demonstrating their increasing power with their control over increasing territories and it being unsafe to travel in the country at night. The attack against the watch tower was a direct example of this. The French continued to exert their influence over Vietnam during this period though it was acknowledged that they were fighting a losing battle. ...read more.


The "third force" itself led by General Th� was politically opposed to both the French Government and the communists. Hence it was clearly a troubled time in Vietnam. Fowler made an interesting comment in the novel as to the beliefs of the local people and the American views. "You and your like are trying to make a war with the help of people who just aren't interested. They don't want communism. They want enough rice...They don't want to be shot at. They want one day to be much the same as another. They don't want our white skins around telling them what they want..." The novel also portrays the distinction in social classes, race and gender at that time. This is perhaps best illustrated by the role of Phuong, the love interest of both Fowler and Pyle. She is driven by her desire to marry a foreigner to guarantee her financial security. She is the subservient female and constantly seeks to please the males in her life. There is a great class and race distinction between the local way of life and that of the foreigners evidenced by numerous parties and dinners at fine restaurants and hotels such as the "Hotel Continental" as compared to the locals eating on the streets. ...read more.


A significant gap in the novel, is the way in which the author fails to present the readers with a historical background of the events which have created the turbulent political climate. Consequently, unless you possess a sound historical knowledge of the era, the audience is solely reliant on the way in which the author is positioning us. The dominant viewpoint of the author was to highlight the conflicting political ideologies of the time, which was extremely relevant to that particular historical period. The Americans were consumed with a fear of communism spreading throughout the world and would go to any lengths to prevent that occurring. Later that decade the Americans officially became involved in what was one of the world's most controversial battles. Pyle's contribution to the American anti-communism movements was typical of the thinking at that time. His actions were an example of how the world is constructed and the extraordinary lengths humans will go to, to defend their beliefs. "The Quiet American" is a very honest portrayal of the complexity of human nature. The author's message is clearly evident in Fowler's closing statement..."Everything had gone right with me since he died, but how I wished there existed someone whom I could say that I was sorry". ...read more.

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