The Quiet American

The Quiet American Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Love Triangle (Allegory)

The love triangle between Phuong, Thomas Fowler, and Alden Pyle is an allegory for the Vietnam War. Phuong wants to get married and live a life of stability, just as most Vietnamese civilians want peace and happiness in their country. Fowler, the European (though he is not French) desperately wants to be with Phuong but has responsibilities back home in England. This aligns with France's desire to maintain colonial power over Vietnam instead of allowing it to become autonomous. Finally, Pyle, the American, is idealistic. He belives that he is fighting for the triumph of good over evil without taking into account the lives that will be lost. The Vietnam War was the most unpopular war in American history; many of the young, inexperienced soldiers who died there did not even understand the implications of their sacrifice.

York Harding's Books (Symbol)

York Harding is a fictional author whose work represents the American idealism that Greene criticizes in The Quiet American. During the flashback to the Pyle and Fowler's first meeting, Fowler immediately classifies Pyle as "innocent," and thinks, "perhaps only ten days ago he had been walking back across the common in Boston his arms full of the books he had been reading in advance on the Far East and the problems of China... he was absorbed already in the dilemmas of Democracy and the responsibilities of the west" (10). Later, after Pyle's death, we learn that his bookshelf contains two full rows of Harding's books, which have names like The Advance of Red ChinaThe Challenge to Democracy, and The Role of the West. While Fowler, the weathered reporter, develops an opinion on war after experiencing it firsthand, the enthusiastic Pyle comes to Vietnam with pre-concieved notions based on academic theory. Ultimately, Pyle's idealism is his downfall. 

Phuong's Belongings (Symbol)

Fowler goes to Pyle's apartment to claim Phuong's belongings after Pyle's death. However, he finds that "There [is] really very little to put in the box, less than a week-end's visitors at home" (20). Pyle supposedly wanted to marry Phuong, but there is barely a trace of her in the home they shared. This is a symbol of the way many Vietnamese civilians were forgotten in the political crossfire between the South, the Communist forces, and the West; reporters like Fowler are not even allowed to write about the civilian deaths so it is like the innocents never existed. 

The House of Five Hundred Girls (Allegory)

Granger is an American journalist who has not a shred of idealism; he is content to comply with the French censorship on stories about Vietnam. He is in Vietnam to give the American and European readers what they want to hear, and has chosen to cast any morality aside. At the whorehouse in Saigon, Fowler observes, "there was no protection here for the cilvilian. If he chose to poach on military territory, he must look after himself and find his own way out" (30). Similarly, the leaders of western military forces did not shirk at taking down Vietnamese civilians in the name of victory, as Fowler experiences firsthand in Phat Diem. Therefore, Granger's appetite for the Vietnamese whores is an allegory for the American desire to uphold its virile reputation as a superhero nation at any cost, while Thomas Fowler tries to maintain his civility and ends up struggling. 

Dancing (Allegory)

Phuong, Pyle, and Fowler's dances at the Chalet form an allegorical representation of their different approaches to love. Fowler points out that both he and Pyle are bad dancers, but that Pyle is not as self-conscious. This parallels the way that Pyle throws himself headfirst into his relationship with Phuong, but Fowler holds back because of his committments back home in London. Phuong, meanwhile, is a beautiful dancer and there is nothing to hold her back. It is not an act of love for her - ultimately, she is willing to dance with the man that wants to dance with her respectfully. Similarly, she will marry the man who will provide her with a better life.