The Quiet American

The Quiet American

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Quiet American, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Set in Vietnam from 1952-1955, The Quiet American examines the country’s colonial history and its relationship to Europe and America at that time. France colonized and controlled Vietnam from 1887 to 1954. In a brief period after World War II, the communist leader Ho Chi Minh declared independence for Vietnam from France, but British and French troops soon reasserted French colonial power. Ho Chi Minh led local communist forces from the north (Vietminh) in a…

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The Quiet American deals with the difficulty of remaining neutral, or impartial, despite one's intentions. Graham Greene weaves the concept of impartiality into areas of journalism, politics, and personal relationships. Fowler’s profession as a journalist means he is only supposed to report on the war, not engage in it. Fowler highly values journalistic impartiality. He prefers to call himself a “reporter,” rather than a journalist. To him, “reporting” suggests relaying facts about what he…

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Covering the war between the French colonialists and the communist rebels means Fowler must face death throughout the novel. And what he sees—bomb victims and slain women and children—cause Fowler to hate war. However, Fowler frets over the fact that his presence in the war, like accompanying a bombing mission that he is not even allowed to report on, makes him complicit in the death. The inevitability of death weighs heavily on Fowler. He often…

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The central relationship of the novel is the complicated one between Fowler and Pyle. Pyle wants to maintain an amiable relationship with Fowler. Initially, Pyle’s youth and political views make Fowler cautious of Pyle, but Fowler also takes a liking to Pyle’s blunt and innocent American charm. This complicated relationship is made more complicated when Pyle tells Fowler that he is interested in Fowler’s girlfriend, Phuong, as well as by the cultural differences…

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Fowler and Pyle’s desire for Phuong prompts much discussion over differing views of intimate relationships. Fowler, an older, more experienced lover, has a more detached opinion toward relationships. He dwells on their inevitable end, yet hopes to prolong his relationship with Phuong as long as possible. He also claims to be disinterested in Phuong’s feelings, only using the relationship for his own physical pleasure, but it is clear that he has deep feelings for…

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