The Quiet American

The Quiet American Study Guide

The Quiet American is an anti-war novel by Graham Greene that was published in 1955 in the United Kingdom and in 1956 in the United States. Greene drew upon his own experiences in Indochina as a war correspondent for The Times and Le Figaro in the early 1950s. While he used his observations as a basis for the novel, Greene has claimed several times that The Quiet American is not intended to reveal or prove any historical truths. As he writes in the introduction (addressed to Rene and Phuong), "it will pass for both of you one hot Saigon evening." He also makes it clear that the characters are imaginary and not based on anyone specific he had met in Vietnam. Despite these claims, there are still rumors that Greene was inspired to write The Quiet American on a drive to Saigon with an American aid worker who described the need for a "Third Force" in Vietnam. Some critics have floated the possibility that Greene based the character of Alden Pyle on CIA officer Edward Landsdale, who served as an uncredited consultant on the 1958 film adaptation of the novel.

Despite Greene's disclaimers, The Quiet American attracted a lot of controversy for being anti-American novel in that, through the character of Alden Pyle, Greene was accusing Americans of being "baby killers" and ignorant interferers in the violence in Vietnam. Additionally, the prevalence of opium in the novel also proved to be problematic for many readers. Literary critic and professor Phillip Stratford explains the outrage over the book: "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." The Quiet American was published at a time in American history when domestic criticism of the Vietnam War had not yet become popular opinion - there were only about 300 Americans in Vietnam in 1952. By the 1960s, however, every Western reporter had a copy The Quiet American and carried it around while writing about the region. The Quiet American gained both popularity and criticism as more Americans were deployed to fight in Vietnam.

Today, the Quiet American has managed to shake off most of the controversy and is simply considered a great work of literature. In 2007, an article in TIME magazine detailed the journey that Greene fans take to Saigon to follow the paths of the characters in The Quiet American. The Vietnamese government and local businesses have taken advantage of Greene-fueled tourism, and street vendors vendors on the Rue Catinat, the setting of Fowler's flat in the novel, sell hundreds of copies of The Quiet American every week. The Quiet American has also been adapted into two films, once in 1958 and once in 2002. The theatrical release of the 2002 version was slightly delayed because of the 9/11 attacks on America.