How does The Quiet American compare and contrast to William Golding's The Pyramid?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that one area in which Greene and Golding would find similarity through their works is addressing how young people search for meaning.  In both works, young protagonists are searching for answers. Pyle and Oliver struggle to find more than what is in the world around them. In The Pyramid, Oliver seeks to better understand his own sense of identity as one beyond the stifling world around him.  Oliver seeks to go beyond the pyramidical world that is based on stratification and class consciousness.  In the forms of sexual liberation and intellectual questioning, Oliver wishes to transcend the conditions of the world around him.  In much the same way with The Quiet American, Pyle wishes to see more than what surrounds him in Indo- China. The search for a "Third Force" to make the region better is what motivates him. The sense of innocence and apparent purity with which Pyle moves throughout the world is one where he is “a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm."  He seeks to transcend the conditions around him. For both protagonists, meaning in the world involves a desire to go beyond what is there in the hopes of seeing what can be possible.

I think that a distinct difference between both young peoples' narrative lies in the realm of social and political implication.  It is evident that Greene inserts the political and social dynamic as an inextricable part of the characterizations he offers.  The conflict in Vietnam as well as the role of American intervention are critical aspects of the narrative:  

American readers were incensed, perhaps not so much because of the biased portrait of obtuse and destructive American innocence and idealism in Alden Pyle, but because in this case it was drawn with such acid pleasure by a middle-class English snob like Thomas Fowler whom they were all too ready to identify with Greene himself.

Greene understands the geopolitical reality that governs how the characters view themselves and one another.  In The Pyramid, there is a social commentary offered.  However, it lacks the depth of political implications that Greene suggests.  The post- World War I world that Golding offers is one where social hierarchy exists and there is not much in way of political reality within this. The provincial attitudes that Oliver encounters are reflective of social terracing, and are appropriated as personal barriers to be overcome.There is not much in way of an overt political reality as the one that Greene presents in his work.

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The Quiet American

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