Conscience In The Quiet American English Literature Essay

1371 words (5 pages) Essay in English Literature

5/12/16 English Literature Reference this

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Throughout the whole book, The Quiet American, by Graham Greene, the most important theme is perhaps conscience. Conscience is the ability to distinguish if one’s action is either right or wrong. Fowler is a middle-aged British. He tries to feel satisfied with what life has offered him such as a loyal mistress and a quiet home, but Fowler’s conscience is actually impaired and haunted by this past relationships and involvements; he tries to preserve his relationship with Phuong, but the 50 deaths force him to take action. Fowler thinks of himself as someone with no opinion; he does not put his own thoughts and opinions on events and other people. He smokes opium with Phuong because he believes that it will make him behave more Eastern and become less emotional. Fowler wants Phuong because she does not ask for much and she gives him everything he needs from drugs to sex. Pyle is an American in his 30s who was given the title of the “quiet American”. Pyle is not a typical American; he has a good reputation, he is a thoughtful, knowledgeable, and serious American. He is naïve because all he wants is to help and he is polite. He believes in a good democracy and that everyone should have freedom. Even though Pyle is view as the “hero” of the novel and Fowler is view as the “villain”, at the end, Pyle steals Fowler’s girl away from him. Pyle’s conscience is finally relieved when he tells Fowler that he is in love with Phuong.

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According to Georg Gaston in his literary criticism, he says, “The title of the novel is actually ironic, for although Pyle is verbally quiet he is explosive in every other sense. It is Fowler who wishes so desperately for peace and who tries to insist that he is not involved…” (374). He then quoted from the book, The Quiet American, “It had been an article of my creed. The human condition being what it was, let them fight, let them love, let them murder, I would not be involved. My fellow journalists called themselves correspondents; I preferred the title of reporter. I wrote what I saw: I took no action – even an opinion is a kind of action.” (28). Georg Gaston believes that Fowler fits the title of being the “quiet American” more than Pyle. Fowler is the one that constantly wants peace while Pyle only says it verbally. Georg Gaston also stated that Fowler is an opium smoker. He said, “…this drug can dull the pains of conscience for a time and abstract the spectacle of human misery. Eventually, it can lead to the point where life is no longer a torture because it has become insubstantial” (375). Fowler smokes because he is going through a process of psychological and spiritual regeneration. Soon Fowler might turn into Mr. Chou, who is an opium addict, “with the indifferent gaze of a smoker; the sunken cheeks, the baby wrists, the arm of a small girl – many years and many pipes had been needed to whittle him down to these dimensions” (126). Georg Gaston suggests that Pyle is his own enemy in love and in war. Later on, George Gaston states that Pyle’s dream is continuously forcing him onto Fowler’s conscience. Pyle then awakens it and suddenly, “Pyle’s vision of life has a fanatical gleam. He has entered into the struggle of life with the weapons of innocence and devotion, but they are both tarnished by intellectual prejudice and they consequently serve to destroy him” (385), states Georg Gaston.

Miriam Allott criticized on the moral situation in The Quiet American. Miriam Allott states that Fowler does not like to be moved and “he goes out of his way to assert his lack of involvement” (456). Fowler kept on repeating the phrase “I’m not involved” and stated, “It had been an article of my creed. The human condition being that it was, let them love, let them murder, I would not be involved” (28). As much as Fowler does not want to be involved in anything, he cannot permanently refrain from such action. His feelings for Phuong may explain why he cannot manage to remain uninvolved. Miriam Allott states, “They are complex and, if we may judge by the general effect of his novels, they are also fairly typical of Greene’s own feelings about humanity. They mingle tenderness, selfishness, compassion, pain, respect for human dignity, and a bitter sense of the limitations of human faith and love” (458). Fowler’s crushed but inextinguishable emotion binds his indissolubly to his fellow creatures and makes it impossible for him to be uninvolved. Miriam Allott stated that many readers interpret the book as Fowler loves Phuong but instead, she believes the reason Fowler lives with Phuong is because she prepares the opium for him and satisfies him sexually. Their relationship is built on sex. Fowler said, “I don’t care that for her interests, You can her her interests. I only want her body. I want her in bed with me. I’d rather ruin her and sleep with her than, than…look after her damned interest” (59). According to Miriam Allott, “Fowler himself finds another explanation for his longing, seeing it simply as the manifestation of his own selfish egotism. When Pyle at the risk of his own life brings member of the patrol to his rescue, Fowler refuses their aid until they have attended to the young soldier whose moaning had filled him with a sense of anguish and guild harder to bear than the pain of his wounded leg” (463). Fowler sacrificed something little to help a young soldier. Fowler is said to be a saintly figure.

This novel is not simply about the danger of Americans involvement in Indo-China but rather a romance novel with Pyle, Fowler, and Phuong. Fowler serves as the narrator and the protagonist of the novel while he is also Pyle’s rival. Pyle is view as the hero in the novel while Fowler is the villain. In this novel, the hero is eventually betrayed and murdered by the villain due to a girl who they both fell in love with. Brian Thomas states, “The Quiet American is not an ‘ironic’ or mock romance – merely a parodic inversion of a familiar pattern – in which the ‘hero’ loses and the ‘villain’ wins, but is in fact a romance of a more sophisticated type than that suggested by the film” (422). Phuong does not ask for much from Fowler. Fowler considers her as an ideal mistress. She prepares his opium pipes and does not have any serious demands from Fowler. Brian Thomas says, “In one sense, Fowler abets the process of his own growing bemusement. Trying to recover something of the character of his life before the appearance in it of Alden Pyle, he returns with a kind of vengeance to his opium pipe and to Phuong” (440). Then Brian Thomas quoted from the book, “I made love to her in those days savagely as though I hated her, but what I hated was the future. Loneliness lay in my bed and I took loneliness into my arms at night. She didn’t change: she cooked for me, she made my pipes, she gently and sweetly laid out her body for my pleasure, and just as in those early days I wanted her mind, now I wanted to read her thoughts, but they were hidden away in a language I couldn’t speak” (140). Fowler wanted pleasure from Phuong but after she left him for Pyle, he became lonely.

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Pyle and Fowler both had conscience of their own. Fowler’s conscience is harm by his past relationships and involvements. Because of that reason, Fowler tries not to be involved in any events or person’s life. Pyle believes in democracy. In order for that to happen, he does not admit anything that will prevent his mission in bringing democracy. Fowler is immoral in the way he treats a women. All he wants is sex from the women and does not care much about her. She gives him everything he wants but in the meantime, she gets nothing in return.

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