Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Quiet American can be read as a political and moral meditation on the beginning stages of the United States’ involvement in Southeast Asia, and the novel therefore becomes a commentary on the pointlessness of the United States’ later investment of men and materiel in a political action that could only end, as it did for the French, in defeat.

The large-scale political thesis (American interference in the internal affairs of another country can only result in suffering, death, and defeat, and is not morally justifiable because of abstract idealism) is not the only meaning of consequence in the novel, and given the course of later events, its importance may be magnified out of proportion. The object lesson, however, is clearly explained by a French aviator with “orders to shoot anything in sight.” Captain Trouin confides to Fowler that he detests napalm bombing: “We all get involved in a moment of emotion, and then we cannot get out,” he explains. Trouin understands that the French cannot win the war in Indochina: “But we are professionals; we have to go on fighting till the politicians tell us to stop,” he says with bitter resignation. “Probably they will get together and agree to the same peace that we could have had at the beginning, making nonsense of all these years.”

Thus Graham Greene summarizes the lesson of Vietnam fully ten years before the American government expanded its military commitment to fill...

(The entire section is 524 words.)

The Quiet American Themes

Greene's novel is more than a political statement about whether or not America — or any other country — should become involved in the...

(The entire section is 235 words.)