The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The major focus of The Quiet American is upon the narrator, Thomas Fowler, who introduces and interprets Alden Pyle for the reader. The contrasts between Pyle and Fowler are those between youth and age, innocence and experience, naivete and cynicism. The younger Pyle can be regarded as both Fowler’s friend and rival. As the narrative advances, Pyle begins to emerge as Fowler’s enemy, but the man is such a trusting fool.

As a newsman, Fowler prefers to call himself a reporter rather than a correspondent. He takes professional pride in being “objective,” detached, and disengaged. His alleged detachment is contrasted to Pyle’s idealistic involvement, personally and professionally.

Professionally, Pyle works for the American Economic Aid Mission, but this is merely a cover. Pyle is in fact a CIA agent attempting to build support for the puppet warlord General The. His “mission” is not economic but military and anti-Communistic. Pyle’s cover is gradually disclosed as Fowler explains the events leading to Pyle’s murder.

On the personal level, Pyle becomes Fowler’s rival for the affection of the Vietnamese woman Phuong, who has lived with Fowler for two years. Fowler appears to love Phuong (or at least to desire her as a companion to protect him against the loneliness of old age), but he cannot offer her marriage because his wife, Helen, back in England, will not grant him a divorce. The younger Pyle offers...

(The entire section is 564 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Thomas Fowler

Thomas Fowler, the narrator, a British war correspondent based in Saigon during the French-Vietnamese conflict. Middle-aged, jaded, and cynical, he takes pride in his detachment—both from the war and from life—always stressing his role as a reporter, an observer of facts, a man without opinions. Beneath his cool façade, however, he loves Vietnam and its people. Unlike other Western correspondents, he thinks of Saigon as his permanent home. As the story opens, he has lost his Vietnamese mistress of two years, Phuong, to Pyle, the “quiet American.” Ultimately, Fowler’s love for Phuong and his concern for her country lead him, agonizingly, to breach his code of detachment. His involvement forever alters his life and the lives of Phuong and Pyle.

Alden Pyle

Alden Pyle, the “quiet American” of the title, ostensibly employed by the American Economic Aid Mission in Saigon but covertly involved in terrorist activities conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency. Thirty-two years old and Harvard-educated, he is painfully earnest, sincere, and inexperienced. His romantic idealism about love and war is the perfect foil for Fowler’s hard-bitten realism. His naïve attempts to establish a Vietnamese national democracy and his immature devotion to Fowler’s mistress, Phuong, catapult him into circumstances that lead to his assassination.


Phuong, Fowler’s...

(The entire section is 508 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Characterization is the key to The Quiet American, in that Greene, to develop his political concerns, uses Fowler to represent one set...

(The entire section is 332 words.)