Graham Greene's The Quiet American: Alden Pyle as the Antagonist

Essay by sodamayHigh School, 11th grade November 2008

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“The Quiet American”, written by Graham Greene is a story of how the lives of two very different characters – Thomas Fowler and Alden Pyle get intertwined. Fowler is a cynical, jaded, middle-aged war correspondent while Pyle is young, earnest and full of ideas. Despite being portrayed as naive and well-intentioned, I agree with the statement that Pyle is the ‘bad guy’, or rather, the antagonist in the novel.

Alden Pyle came from a well-respected family – his father has appeared on the cover of Times magazine as a renowned professor of underwater erosion and his mother is well respected in their East Coast community. Pyle himself is a brilliant Harvard graduate who came to Vietnam brimming with the ideas of York Harding, a American foreign policy theorist who proposed that a ‘Third Force’ is needed to control the spread of communism in Vietnam. Pyle starts out as a young, innocent, and easy-to-love character, but as the story unravels, his naivety becomes dangerous as he started to mess around with forces he didn’t quite understand.

Thomas Fowler on the other hand, is introduced as a cynical, adulterous, opium-smoking man jaded by the horrors of the war. However, his all-too-human heart is revealed as he watches the world around him crumble as a result of Pyle’s incessant meddling, both in the warfare and in his personal love life. Fowler’s deep feelings and his ability to see the big picture of the Vietnam situation is a stark contrast to Pyle’s insensitive and tactless way of thinking. This clearly makes Thomas Fowler the ‘good guy’ while Pyle is the unwanted trouble-maker of the story. The characters in this novel are representatives of their respective countries: Fowler represents England and France while Pyle is a personification of America.

Pyle’s barefaced naivety comes across...