“The Quiet American” Synopsis by Graham Greene

The Quiet American is an antiwar novel writen by British author, Graham Greene in 1955. This novel was adapted into films in 1958, and in 2002. The 1958 film was written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and the 2002 film was directed by Phillip Noyce.

Being that Cinema is the main representation of Vietnam that was transferred from literature it is important to note the similiarities and differences that are well adapted or just left out in both film versions.

Both film versions and the novel include various themes which can be compared and contrasted; themes of betrayal; living with the guilt of betrayal; religion and politics; the use of a setting as an abstract force and characters that are “trapped emotionally, spiritually, and physically in an alien environment.” (Lewis, Kevin; “The Third Force: Film and Television Literature Index”

Synopsis of Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American

This quick synopsis will help identify important characters which can then be further examines to discern the differences/simiilarities. The story is told from the perspective of Thomas Fowler but Alden Pyle is the driving character of The Quiet American, and we are told in the first chapter that he has been murdered. Thomas Fowler, a British journalist living and workig in Vietnam, tells us the story of his strange relationship with Pyle.

Pyle was in Vietnam on business but exactly what kind of business is not completely understood until the end. When Pyle and Fowler meet, Pyle falls in love with Phuong, the young Vietnamese woman that Fowler is living with.

Synopsis of The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Synopsis of The Quiet American by Graham Greene

The story of their love triangle creates motivation for characters, and Phuong is seen as a representation of how the colonial power, Fowler and the American power, Pyle fight over the innocent and want to contrl them. This novel takes place in the 50’s, years before the Americans enter the Vietnam War.

The French are fighting the Communists, and the Vietnamese peasants are caught in the cross-fire. Pyle is an idealist and truly believes that what he is doing in Vietnam is right, and his ideals are contrasted with Fowlers cynicism and realism. Pyle’s self-righteous determination to stick to his mission forces Fowler to choose sides, even though Fowler had determined to remain disengaged as an impartial journalist. The main driving force for Fowler is his love for Phuong; he is willing to do anything for this woman.

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There is also another character, detective Vigot whom is trying to find out who murdered Pyle. Vigot and Fowler are both cynical and realists but their differeince lies in faith; Vigot is a Roman Catholic and Fowler is an atheist. Thomas Fowler represents the older, cynical person with no religion and no political interest unless it benefits him as a single person. He does not care about the greater good.

On the other hand, Alden Pyle is all about choosing sides and sacrificing a few men for the greater good which is validated in his statement, “They were only war casualties… anyway, they died in the righ cause” (Greene 171).

Fowler could contrast this statement by arguing that “American operations had little relevance to the lives of Vietnamese villagers in the South. Pyle is being portrayed as the beginning of American “Vietnamization… the policy had been built on American desires, not on Vietnamese reality.

These are the main characters which drive the novel: their intentions, ideals, and political alignment will entalbe to develop the story of The Quiet American.

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