British journalist Thomas Fowler is the narrator and protagonist of The Quiet American. Blunt, charming, and intelligent, Fowler is a man who gets straight to the point. He has a wife named Helen in England from whom he is estranged, but during his time in Vietnam he engages in a serious affair with a young woman named Phuong. He does his best to remain professional in his work by keeping a neutral perspective on most issues. He soon discovers, however, that even he cannot ignore the pull his emotions have over both his political opinions and affairs of the heart. As the novel progresses, Greene humanizes Fowler's hardened exterior by revealing his vulnerability; both when he loses Phuong to Alden Pyle and when he witnesses the terrible violence against Vietnamese civilians.
Phuong is a young Vietnamese woman who has relationships with both Fowler and Pyle over the course of The Quiet American. She is quiet and reserved by nature, and maintains a stoic facade even in the most trying circumstances. Even though she is the object of two men's affections, but she rarely speaks for herself and often allows them to speak about her right front of her face. Frequently mistaken as a prostitute, Phuong's secondary role in the novel alludes to the position of Vietnamese women at this point in time.
The French policeman who interrogates Fowler about Pyle's death. He represents the overtaxed French police and the complexity of the war as he tries to figure out what happened to Alden Pyle. His conversations with Fowler prompt the reader to question Fowler's trustworthiness as a narrator.
Alden Pyle, the titular Quiet American, is an ardent believer in the power and virtue of American foreign policy. His Harvard education has made him deeply dependent on academic analysis to comprehend the war; he is generally resistant to changing his opinions based on knowledge acquires in the field. Fowler frequently criticizes Pyle for being blind to what is actually happening around him. This is most evident when Pyle supplies bomb materials to General Thé in hopes that he is the "Third Force" that the Americans will be able to back to secure democracy in French Indochina. Pyle is also involved in a love triangle with Fowler and Phuong, and manages to woo Phuong away from her relationship with Fowler with promises of marriage and a fresh start in America. Phuong returns to Fowler, however, after Pyle's untimely death.
Fowler accompanies Captain Trouin on a vertical strike during his second trip to the north. Trouin takes the journalist on the strike even though he is not supposed to, showing that he is reflective and aware of the damage the French have caused. However, Captain Trouin has found a way to rationalize his role in the violence. He also manages to force Fowler to re-examine his insistence against taking sides in the conflict. Even though their time together is fleeting, Captain Trouin has a lasting effect on Fowler, and Fowler recalls his conversation with Trouin after the bombing in the square.
American Economic Attaché
Joe, the American Economic Attaché, is Alden Pyle's friend and supervisor. He is protective of Pyle and also represents the American "savior" mentality that both he and Pyle blindly embrace.
Ms. Hei is Phuong's brash and outspoken elder sister. She wants to find the best financial situation for Phuong, which means securing her marriage to a wealthy foreigner. She seems to have taken on the role of a parent to her sister and aggressively pursues whichever man she feels will present their family with the most secure future.
Helen is Fowler's estranged wife. Even though Fowler is with Phuong and has cheated on her in the past, she refuses to divorce him on account of her Catholic beliefs. She writes a harsh and piercing letter to Fowler in which she criticizes him for having temporary feelings for women. At the end of the novel, however, she sends a telegram agreeing to divorce him, making it legal for Fowler to marry Phuong.
Pyle believes that General Thé best embodies York Harding's ideal "Third Force," so he partners with the guerrilla leader to "win the East for democracy." He remains loyal to General Thé even after he engineers a major public bombing with massive casualties; this leads Fowler to eventually betray Pyle.
Dominguez is Fowler's hardworking Indian assistant. He has constructed an excellent intelligence system, which is how Fowler is able to discover the connection between Pyle and General Thé.
York Harding is a scholar whom Pyle deeply respects. He believes that the way to solve the conflict in Vietnam is to back a powerful "Third Force," which must be uncorrupted by colonialism or communism.
Mr. Chou owns the scrap metal warehouse in which the the explosive tins and moulds are found. Mr. Chou and his assistant, Mr. Heng, help Fowler to piece together Pyle's involvement with General Thé. They belong to the Communist Party and are against Pyle's involvement in the war.
Mr. Heng is Mr. Chou's assistant. He represents the interests of the Communist Party, and he Fowler goes to see him after discovering Pyle's involvement in the public square bombing. Mr. Heng is responsible for killing Pyle, with Fowler's assistance.
Granger is a rambunctious American journalist and Fowler's colleague. He is hardened and corrupt; a foil to Alden Pyle's idealism. Despite his appetite for booze and prostitutes, however, Granger is outspoken against the French attempts to disseminate propaganda through the international media. Granger reveals to Fowler at the end of the novel that his son is suffering from a rather severe case of polio.
The Quiet American Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Quiet American is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
I think that themes are more effective than morals. Still, if you need a moral, you might consider that violence is always bad for both a people and their country. Check out the GradeSaver themes page below: