The Quiet American

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The Role of the West Symbol Analysis

The Role of the West Symbol Icon
York Harding’s signature book, The Role of the West, plays an important role in inspiring Alden Pyle to turn to violence in Vietnam. Pyle believes that it’s necessary to use bombs and other brutal measures to realize Pyle’s dreams of a Third Force—a new kind of government—in Vietnam. Both Greene and Fowler have great contempt for Pyle’s heartless idealism, which Pyle uses to justify the murder of women and children. For Pyle, The Role of West is a Bible—a document of sublime, unimpeachable truth. In general, it symbolizes the possible tyranny of intellectualism and theory, and the way ideas can be used to justify evil.

The Role of the West Quotes in The Quiet American

The The Quiet American quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Role of the West. 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 1, Chapter 2, Section 1 Quotes

I liked his loyalty to Harding—whoever Harding was. It was a change from the denigrations of the Pressmen and their immature cynicism. I said, “Have another bottle of beer and I’ll try to give you an idea of things.”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle , York Harding
Related Symbols: The Role of the West
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage jumps back in time to when Fowler and Pyle first meet, and Fowler gets a sense for Alden Pyle's intellectual curiosity. Pyle is an impressionable reader--as we'll see later on, his favorite author is Harding, an intellectual who inspires him to use violence to control the people of Vietnam. At first, Fowler is intrigued by the mere fact that Pyle is reading--he considers Pyle's behavior a welcome contrast from the usual boorishness and cynicism Fowler notices among many foreigners in Vietnam.

It's worth noting that Fowler's admiration for Pyle has a paternal flavor--Fowler seems to see something of his younger self in Pyle (it's literature, after all, that links Fowler and Pyle together: Fowler is a writer and Pyle is a reader). Greene will revisit the paternal bond between Fowler and Pyle (who's young enough to be Fowler's son) many times.

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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.

Part 4, Chapter 1 Quotes

“No. I’m not so stupid. One doesn’t take one’s enemy’s book as a souvenir. There it is on your shelf. The Rôle of the West. Who is this York Harding?” “He’s the man you are looking for, Vigot. He killed Pyle—at long range.”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Vigot (speaker), Alden Pyle , York Harding
Related Symbols: The Role of the West
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

After the death of Alden Pyle, Fowler crosses paths with Vigot, the police inspector who’s been tasked with investigating Pyle’s death. Vigot notices a copy of The Role of the West, Pyle’s favorite book, in Fowler’s home. When he asks Fowler about the book, Fowler claims that it was York Harding (the author) who truly killed Pyle.

Fowler’s remarks are both totally self-serving and totally accurate. Fowler is himself responsible for Pyle’s death—terrified by Pyle’s politics and jealous of his romantic success with Phuong, Fowler allowed Pyle to be murdered. By blaming Harding for Pyle’s death, Fowler is cynically trying to absolve himself of guilt. But in another sense, Fowler is right to blame Harding. Pyle lived his adult life according to a set of lofty, unrealistic ideals. In so doing, he entered into a world of violence and bloodshed, in which he wasn’t equipped to last very long--and in which he did great harm.

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The Role of the West Symbol Timeline in The Quiet American

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Role of the West appears in The Quiet American. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 2, Section 2
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...York Harding’s books, reports, and other informational texts. Fowler takes one of the Harding books, The Role of the West , for himself. (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 1
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
...he doesn’t think Fowler was involved, but points to a copy of York Harding’s book, The Role of the West , lying on Fowler’s bookshelf. Fowler nods darkly, and says that it was Harding who... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 3
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
Fowler notices the copy of The Role of the West on his bookshelf. He asks Phuong if she misses Pyle at all, and tells her... (full context)