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 sees, whereas “journalism” suggests recording a journal of opinions on Vietnam. He seeks to publish an objective account of the situation in Vietnam. Moreover, though he is from the West, his British nationality and lack of affiliation with the French or American forces allows him to claim political impartiality. The novel often uses the term engagé to describe active political participation, and Fowler prides himself on not being engagé. However, many people tell Fowler that it is impossible not to be engagé and that he must take a side. Though he never admits to being engagé, Fowler eventually sides with the Communists to arrange Pyle’s assassination, and thus demonstrates that he cannot maintain his impartiality. Contrary to Fowler’s passive stance, Pyle represents an active participant in regards to the war. Pyle believes in fighting against communism and instilling democracy. Though his involvement in the war becomes clear only gradually, Fowler eventually discovers that Pyle is a C.I.A. agent providing military counter-insurgency support in the form of plastic used to conceal bombs in bicycle pumps. These bicycle pump bombs were targeted at Communist leaders.
Much of The Quiet American explores themes in both political relationships on an international scale and personal relationships on an individual scale. In this way, Greene applies the discussion of impartiality to Fowler’s relationship to Pyle. Though Fowler often acts with passive disinterest toward Pyle, he eventually takes action against Pyle in the extreme by helping to arrange his assassination. Along with the journalistic aspect of impartiality comes the idea of investigation. In part, Fowler’s journalistically investigative missions into the Vietnamese war zone guide the plot. They make Fowler hate war, contributing to his desire to remain impartial in the war. Other parts of the novel are shaped by the investigation Vigot conducts surrounding Pyle’s death, in which Fowler has reluctantly become an active participant. The novel ultimately sides with the several characters who cautioned Pyle that everyone becomes engagé at some point. The extremity of war reaches even to civilians who wish to remain uninvolved and forces them into active participation in the war.
Impartiality and Action ThemeTracker
Impartiality and Action Quotes in The Quiet American
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.”
“Do you think I’d really go near their stinking highway? Stephen Crane could describe a war without seeing one. Why shouldn’t I? Its only a damned colonial war anyway. Get me another drink. And then let’s go and find a girl. You’ve got a piece of tail. I want a piece of tail too.”
The canal was full of bodies: I am reminded now of an Irish stew containing too much meat. The bodies overlapped: one head, seal-grey, and anonymous as a convict with a shaven scalp, stuck up out of the water like a buoy. There was no blood: I suppose it had flowed away a long time ago. I have no idea how many there were: they must have been caught in a cross-fire, trying to get back, and I suppose every man of us along the bank was thinking, “Two can play at that game.” I too took my eyes away; we didn’t want to be reminded of how little we counted, how quickly, simply and anonymously death came. Even though my reason wanted the state of death, I was afraid like a virgin of the act. I would have liked death to come with due warning, so that I could prepare myself. For what? I didn’t know, nor how, except by taking a look around at the little I would be leaving.
“I’ve no reason to believe in a God. Do you?” “Yes. I’m a Unitarian.”
“How many hundred million Gods do people believe in? Why, even a Roman Catholic believes in quite a different God when he’s scared or happy or hungry.”
“Maybe, if there is a God, he’d be so vast he’d look different to everyone.”
“Like the great Buddha in Bangkok,” I said. “You can’t see all of him at once. Anyway he keeps still.”
“That’s just it,” Pyle said. “You shouldn’t be against York, you should be against the French. Their colonialism.”
“Isms and ocracies. Give me facts. A rubber planter beats his laborer—all right, I’m against him. He hasn’t been instructed to do it by the Minister of the Colonies. In France I expect he’d beat his wife. I’ve seen a priest, so poor he hasn’t a change of trousers, working fifteen hours a day from hut to hut in a cholera epidemic, eating nothing but rice and salt fish, saying his Mass with an old cup—a wooden platter. I don’t believe in God and yet I’m for that priest. Why don’t you call that colonialism?
Mr. Heng turned away. “I only want you to remember what you have seen,” he said, walking back in the shadows of the junk-pile. “Perhaps one day you will have a reason for writing about it. But you must not say you saw the drum here.” “Nor the mould?” I asked. “Particularly not the mould.”
He watched me as I stretched out for my second pipe. “I envy you your means of escape.”
“You don’t know what I’m escaping from. It’s not from the war. That’s no concern of mine. I’m not involved.”
“You will all be. One day.”
“You are still limping.”
“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.”