The Quiet American

by Graham Greene

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How does The Quite American use literary devices to demonstrate the lack of accountability and transparency within authoritarian governments?

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Some literary devices that Graham Greene uses in The Quiet American to demonstrate the lack of accountability and transparency within authoritarian governments include point of view, flashbacks, and symbolism.

Greene’s novel is told through the perspective of the journalist Thomas Fowler. Using first-person narration, Greene filters almost everything, including the machinations of the government in Vietnam, through Fowler. With this literary device in tow, Greene explicitly addresses corruption in the government early on in the novel when Fowler declares, “Legality was not essential in a country at war.”

Immediately following this nefarious statement, Greene uses another literary device, the flashback, to illustrate the clandestine character of authoritarian governments. Fowler remembers a nameless man who had “suddenly and inexplicably lost his cook.” Fowler speculates about what might have happened to the cook. Perhaps he joined the communists, became a member of a private army, turned into a pimp, or folded under questioning. Whatever occurred, none of the scenarios come across as overtly honest or honorable. Thus, the flashback reflects the intrigue and scheming of the unjust government.

A third literary device to consider is symbolism. One could argue that Fowler’s deceptive relationship with his wife and Phuong can be read as representing the underhanded dealings between the iniquitous government and its people.

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