Places Discussed


*Vietnam. Country in Southeast Asia that was colonized by France during the late nineteenth century. The novel is set in Vietnam in the early 1950’s at a time when the Vietnamese people believe they have earned their independence, but the French still refuse to withdraw. From their ostensibly secure base in Saigon, the French rule an uneasy country, one whose countryside and northern districts are controlled by nationalist forces known as the Viet Minh. Into a complex atmosphere of political intrigue and violence, Graham Greene interweaves a psychological study of a murdered American espionage agent and a British journalist.

The novel is a partly autobiographical account of Greene’s own time in Vietnam, where he was a journalist in 1951 to 1952. His narrator, Thomas Fowler, is also a war correspondent stationed in Saigon through whose eyes readers learn of the murky political situation developing with the increasing American presence in Southeast Asia.


*Saigon (SI-gahn; now Ho Chi Minh City). Capital of colonial Cochin China. A French stronghold, Saigon is the site for much of the action in The Quiet American. The fact that terrorist attacks and bombings occur in the midst of this urbane and sophisticated center of French colonial culture provides strong evidence for the disintegration of French control. The novel depicts Saigon as the center of a culture degraded by...

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Literary Techniques

The novel begins with Pyle's death, and then proceeds as a flashback. Beginning with the ending could destroy any chance for suspense, but...

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Social Concerns

Like many of Greene's spy, or espionage, novels, The Quiet American is concerned with the effect the superpowers have when they...

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Literary Precedents

The theme of the American innocent abroad is as much a theme of American literature as it is British. It goes back to Mark Twain's novel...

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Related Titles

Greene has written a number of novels of international intrigue since his service with British Secret Intelligence: The Ministry of...

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The Quiet Man was adapted to the screen and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1957. The movie starred, appropriately, Audie Murphy,...

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(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

DeVitis, A. A. Graham Greene. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Treats the novel as a transitional work, telling of Greene’s experience in Indochina, his use of an unreliable narrator, and the novel’s existentialism. Discusses the novel’s links to Greene’s religious fiction.

Gaston, Georg M. A. The Pursuit of Salvation: A Critical Guide to the Novels of Graham Greene. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1984. Calls The Quiet American the most flawless novel Greene ever wrote but also one of his most controversial and misunderstood. Argues that critics have simplified the book’s politics and that the book’s real issue is...

(The entire section is 247 words.)