The Quiet American

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General Thé Character Analysis

An enigmatic Vietnamese military commander, General Thé uses violence and cruelty to achieve his political aims, but it’s never made clear what these aims are. Thé becomes an object of great fascination for Alden Pyle, the young idealist who believes that Thé represents the Third Force prophesized by York Harding. In the end, Greene doesn’t explain to us whether Thé is a noble idealist, as Pyle thinks, or a brutal “bandit,” as Fowler suspects.

General Thé Quotes in The Quiet American

The The Quiet American quotes below are all either spoken by General Thé or refer to General Thé . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Quiet American published in 2004.
Part 3, Chapter 2, Section 1 Quotes

“We are the old colonial peoples, Pyle, but we’ve learnt a bit of reality, we’ve learned not to play with matches. This Third Force—it comes out of a book, that’s all. General Thé’s only a bandit with a few thousand men: he’s not a national democracy.” It was as if he had been staring at me through a letter-box to see who was there and now, letting the flap fall, had shut out the unwelcome intruder. His eyes were out of sight. “I don’t know what you mean, Thomas.” “Those bicycle bombs. They were a good joke, even though one man did lose a foot. But, Pyle, you can’t trust men like Thé. They aren’t going to save the East from Communism. We know their kind.”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle (speaker), General Thé
Related Symbols: The Role of the West
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Fowler tries to talk Pyle out of his political plottings. Fowler knows that Pyle has been working on behalf of General Thé, a military strongman in Vietnam. Although Pyle barely knows Thé, he thinks of him as a symbol of everything his favorite book, The Role of the West, argues for. Pyle thinks that by helping the General, he’ll be able to install a new, virtuous form of self-government in Vietnam, ensuring peace and prosperity. As Fowler points out, however, Pyle has made a huge mistake in putting his faith in Thé. Even if The Role of the West is correct about the Third World, Pyle is wrong to think that Thé (in reality just a petty tyrant hungry for power) will be the one to change things in Vietnam.

As Fowler strongly implies, Pyle is a lofty idealist who simply doesn’t understand how people work. Pyle is so eager to believe in abstract ideals that he barely gives any thought to the way such ideals are realized. As a result, he’s willing to work for Thé, setting off bombs and hurting innocent people. Fowler, for all his supposed stoicism and indifference, can’t help but try to dissuade Pyle.

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General Thé Character Timeline in The Quiet American

The timeline below shows where the character General Thé appears in The Quiet American. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 2, Section 1
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...private armies exchange services for money, including the Caodaists, a Vietnamese religious group led by General Thé to fight against both the French and the Communists. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2, Section 1
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
At the festival in Tanyin, Fowler overhears talk of General Thé . The Pope’s deputy tells Fowler that Thé has kidnapped a cardinal from Tanyin, but... (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
...festival. As they talk, a Caodaist commandant, who, Fowler remembers, had been an assistant to General Thé , greets Pyle. Fowler senses that Pyle and the commandant want to talk alone, and... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3, Section 2
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...fine white powder. Mr. Heng explains to Fowler that he’s seen Pyle in touch with General Thé . Heng adds that he and Chou have been experimenting with plastic moulds—“not for toys”—on... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1, Section 2
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Fowler writes a story about the “Bicycle Bombs,” in which he blames General Thé for the damage. He thinks that Pyle must have been responsible for the bicycles, and... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2, Section 1
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...and tells him not to trust too much in York Harding. He warns Pyle that General Thé doesn’t represent the Third Force Harding discusses—on the contrary, Thé is only a small-minded “bandit.”... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2, Section 2
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
...Pyle has believed in York Harding and the Third Force, he’s enabled a dangerous thug, General Thé , who clearly has no qualms about killing dozens of Vietnamese innocents. He dares Pyle... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2, Section 1
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
...calmly, and explains that Pyle is “his own master,” even though he seems loyal to General Thé . Heng suggests that Fowler go to the police and tell them what he knows,... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2, Section 2
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Inside Fowler’s flat, Pyle explains that he’s seen General Thé that afternoon. He insists that the people of Vietnam aren’t complicated—indeed, they’re like children. Fowler... (full context)