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Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American
Set during the Vietnam war and told from the perspective of the English journalist Thomas Fowler, this is a story of betraying principles and getting involved. Fowler is on assignment in Vietnam, and has lived there for some time. It is apparent that he is escaping a failed marriage and the fall-out from having had an affair back in England. While in Vietnam, Fowler has begun a relationship with a Vietnamese girl, Phuong, who is both illiterate and cannot speak English, so she is completely divorced from Fowler’s life and work. One of her main roles as Fowler’s partner is to prepare his opium pipes which he uses as a further escape from emotionalism. Fowler’s detached and well-ordered existence is shaken up by the appearance of Alden Pyle, a young idealistic American who falls in love with Phuong. With his passionate ideals and his desire to do the right thing for Phuong, Pyle is the complete antithesis to the world-weary Fowler. One of the ideas that Greene is exploring in this novel is the shades of grey that occur in conflict. No one is completely innocent of inflicting harm upon another. Indeed, it is the innocent who Fowler sees as most capable of hurting others in their ignorance. Greene uses many symbols to demonstrate this point. Light is at once soft, and the manifestation of an explosion; the Vietnamese people are ageless and often child-like in appearance, although Greene in no way infantalises these people. Pyle is idealistic and strives for honour - he insists upon being fair, but we do not admire him for these heroic ideals. Indeed, we can see how dangerous and unthinking heroes can be - while they may be trying to help, they risk the lives of other people than their own. But nor do we admire Fowler himself for being a bystander - it is clear to him and to us that he must act to stop the heroic antics of Pyle. When Fowler is the victim in the love-triangle that dominates much of the narrative, we do not feel sorry for him, but understand that this is the last in a long line of failed romantic relationships that Fowler did not try hard enough to maintain. Inertia is as despicable a reaction to conflict as action. In the end, we can only conclude that people must take responsibility for themselves and their action or inaction - neither is right, they are both choices that result in hurt and death, and the human element is written out of history anyway. Life is hard. And then you die.
Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American
he abandons this precept. innocent of his own actions. He is so detached from events around him. with Phuong. Miss Hei The sister of Phuong. This is very much a symbol of how he regards himself. He is in many ways the complete antithesis to the narrator .as the final annihilation of self and ego . He believes that the only absolute thing that can be relied upon in death . is well deserved. but he has a great need to ‘play fair’. but in his naivete detonates the bomb in a market place. for Fowler she is an escape . He has come to a country in the middle of a war.and writes that he welcomes it.young and idealistic where Fowler is old and cynical. Fowler has left his wife. and is challenged in this view by Fowler who sees her much more realistically. killing and maiming women and children. The old. naive to live. Once again. However. where he as an English man is regarded as neutral. Helen. Vietnamese way of living is no longer viable. His astonishment and desire to clean his bloodied shoes is contrasted with the grieving mother who covers her dead infant with her hat. he is clean. Alden Pyle Pyle is the character after whom this novel is named. both Pyle and Fowler are surprised by this. Pyle thinks of her as unable to make her own decisions. Pyle idealistically gets involved in plastic explosives (the plastic representing his new world). it is this last characteristic that gives the novel some of its humour . and it is clear that she is the only one who does rise from the wreckage of the world around them. these women do not have many options.she prepares the pipes he is addicted to as an escape from emotional reality. in this way his name . although as a narrator he is often preoccupied with religion and religious thought. it is clear that for her and Phuong life is not a gentle and forgiving existence. However.she is objectified by both Pyle and Fowler. but he wants to be upfront and open about his intentions. He is in a relationship with the much younger and very attractive Phuong. he regards her very much like a possession. This is a part of the cynicism which is a fundamental part of his character. and even the colour of her skin is the same amber as the opium resin. and it demonstrates how caught up Pyle is in his ideal view of the world. and how little bearing on reality it has. she is interested only in the material comfort of her sister and herself. He is often characterised as innocent. it is Phuong herself who decides her own future. and it is for this reason that Fowler decides Pyle is too innocent. childlike. from doubting Thomas. with the war. She cannot read English and is thus completely separate from Fowler’s life as a man of letters. when faced with death. like a virgin and it is therefore ironic that the name Alden means ‘old and wise’. of course. whom he refers to as ‘correspondents’. like so many of his other ideals.he wants to marry Phuong and therefore steal her from Fowler. but in the end. he even disparages fellow journalists. Fowler is an avowed atheist. she is not destroyed by those around her. Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American 2 . in England. The meaning of Phuong’s name is given to us on the first page of the novel. She acts for Pyle when she sees that he is in a position to marry Phuong and can therefore be seen as the antagonist in Fowler’s drama.A Ticking Mind Teacher Reference. Without a secure relationship. Pyle is keen to get involved. he is very surprised when she exercises her own free will and knocks Pyle back. and is afraid. after being unfaithful to her and then being unable to reconcile with her. Characters Thomas Fowler Fowler is the cynical narrator of the novel who has made a career out of being a bystander. however. and although he does not see this in himself. Phuong Phuong is the centre of the love triangle .Thomas. Fowler and he discuss Phuong’s future and their involvement.
Chou. Phuong lives from day to day.’ The inference is clear: Fowler is judging Heng and his associates as rat-like. animalistic. Compared with the troubles that face the men in the novel. Vigot The French detective in charge of investigating Pyle’s death. in contrast to Fowler who considers that he has a job). who is supposed to have a position of power. but he is a professional soldier. using the talents (beauty) that they have. Trouin takes Fowler to a prostitute. Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American 3 . he makes Fowler aware of the extent of Pyle’s activities.. It is Fowler who is the animal. Heng is the man behind Mr. ‘Sooner or later. a concept that Fowler himself struggles with. and Fowler is impotent: a contrast to Trouin.A Ticking Mind Teacher Reference. a man who knows what his purpose in life is . Captain Trouin A very minor character who appears in Part 3. appearing in Books 1. Mr Heng The person ultimately responsible for the death of Pyle. It is Heng who tells Fowler. Trouin is a pilot who drops bombs and napalm on villages while claiming that the risk to himself is as great as it is to the village. Fowler is sorry to have lied about his involvement with Pyle’s death. and these women need to fend for themselves. If one is to remain human. and not Heng. because he knows that Vigot is representative only of the truth. a victim of the world around her who refuses to be a victim. but they are concerned with the human war in way that Fowler is not. the life of Vietnam as a French colony is fast coming to an end.one has to take sides.to find out the truth. in turn Heng is supposed to have friends ‘like rats’ supporting him. He is dismissive of Fowler’s detachment from the situation.. He is a minor character in the novel. In this way. he is a man with a vocation (again.. he knows that the war can’t be won. Vigot is portrayed as a sensitive man of learning. Although Vigot is ‘not altogether sorry’ that Pyle has been killed. 3 and 4.
he is becoming involved with living. Fowler and Pyle are. Fowler is increasingly affected by the war around him. Part 3 is the climax of the novel . Part 4 is the resolution of the novel. to ‘take a look at the war’. During this part of the novel.particularly for the westerners .Phuong has left Fowler and he confronts Pyle and makes a scene about it.A Ticking Mind Teacher Reference. Pyle and Phuong’s relationship. Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American 4 . almost as though it does not exist. Fowler is seemingly able to separate the war outside of Saigon. but by Pyle’s declaration of love for Phuong. he contrasts the horror and carnage of the war with the softness of the natural light and the beauty of the landscape. and then later is caused by Fowler’s deceit. with the strong inference being that Fowler is responsible. and must act. The rest of Part 1 orients the audience with the relationship between Fowler and Pyle and ends after Pyle declares his love for Phuong: the complication is established. It is in the country that Fowler is confronted not only by the war. Phuong moves back in with Fowler. This is summed up in the quote: “It’s like it used to be. Setting & Structure The Quiet American is a four part drama that is written in a circular narrative: Part 1 starts with the investigation of Fowler’s involvement in Pyle’s death. the difficulty surrounding this is due to both men initially feeling that Phuong can’t decide for herself. much of the social activity . Although he is able to write somewhat callously of the dead bodies in rivers as like ‘meat’. very bad dancers. It seems that everything is back to the beginning again. Part 3 ends with the carnage in the market place and Pyle unable to comprehend that his ignorance is responsible. In fact. The Quiet American is set for the most part in Saigon. This part of the novel ends with Phuong leaving with Pyle. when he sees the dead and dying in the marketplace of Saigon. The dancing is a symbol of the thin veneer of civilisation and of pretense. Fowler begins to understand that he is deeply afraid of dying. Part 2 explores the complication of Fowler. Fowler makes a pact with Mr Heng who has Pyle killed. naturally. which surprises him. and cannot maintain his cynical detachment when stuck overnight with two Vietnamese soldiers. “a year ago. However.is drinking and dancing. which seems separate from the war.” I lied. he is affected.” Except now even Fowler is unsure of his motives. ultimately. Heng shows Fowler the destruction that Pyle is wreaking with his ‘plastic’. When Fowler goes out to the country-side. until Heng brings his attention to Pyle’s activities in Saigon.
’ p28 That was my first instinct .calms the nerves and stills the emotions. a man of middle age. It never occurred to me that there was greater need to protect myself. p11 He was doing a lot of harm. I would not be involved. p4 legality was not essential in a country at war. p12 Death takes away vanity.. p23 ‘It’s only a damned colonial was anyway. ungraceful in love. p17 ‘I’m not involved. p13 Perhaps I should have seen that fanatic gleam. He was young and ignorant and silly and he got involved. Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell. I said . p32 Death was the only absolute value in my world.’ p12 I told myself again I was innocent. Quotes Part I ‘Phuong’. less noisy than Granger perhaps but more cynical.to protect him.. but nothing nowadays is fabulous and nothing rises from the ashes. p11 ‘God save us always. My fellow journalists called themselves correspondents. meaning no harm. less innocent. The human condition being what it was. I preferred the title of reporter. p13 I was a correspondent: I thought in headlines.’ p29 Suddenly I saw myself as he saw me. p7 Opium.which means Phoenix. beginning to put on weight. p36 The war was very tidy and clean at that distance. p3 Pyle was very earnest and I had suffered from his lectures on the Far East. I took no action .’ I said. with eyes a little bloodshot. p20 ‘I like it here.problems. let them murder.even an opinion is a kind of action. let them fight.’ I repeated. wandering the world. At home there are . It had been an article of my creed. Not involved.A Ticking Mind Teacher Reference.’ p22 They killed him because he was too innocent to live. let them love. p9 Everything was important to Pyle. p38 Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American 5 . I wrote what I saw. ‘from the innocent and the good.
but one has to be sensible. I thought I saw her changing’ p95 ‘And this isn’t my war’ p98 One shouldn’t fight a war with children p100 Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American 6 . p45 there was a quality of the implacable in Pyle. That doesn’t sound very exciting.’ p67 ‘It wouldn’t be fair otherwise’ p68 ‘one gets over anything’ p69 ‘what I offer is security and respect.. but perhaps its better than passion’ p70 I loved her for the innocence of her question. I hadn’t youth. a future’ p79 It belonged to a psychological world of great simplicity. but now I hadn’t even the limited future of twelve more months to offer. who includes the guilt of murder in the pay-envelope and escapes responsibility. p73 the weapon of weakness and I was weak. seriousness. integrity. Give me facts. p53 I had experience to match his virginity. where you talked of Democracy and Honor’ p82 I was fear taken neat p83 they were as scared as I’d been p84 ‘Thought’s a luxury’ ‘Isms and ocracies. p51 he was as incapable of imagining a pain or danger to himself as he was incapable of conceiving the pain he might cause others. p43 Perhaps to the soldier the civilian is the man who employs him to kill. ‘It’s strange what fear does to a man’ p41 we didn’t want to be reminded of how little we counted. simply and anonymously death came..Why don’t you call that colonialism’ p87 I was terrified of losing her..’ p66 ‘He meant a great deal to me. p58 Part II ‘The history books gloss it over’ p66 ‘It’s human to make mistakes.A Ticking Mind Teacher Reference. age was as good a card to play in the sexual game as youth. and a future was trumps. how quickly.
p167 ‘Sometimes we have a kind of love for our enemies and sometimes we feel hate for our friends.. his half-baked ideas founded on the works of York Harding.. Innocence is a kind of insanity.. We all get involved in a moment of emotion and then we cannot get out. ‘one has to take sides. You’re engage like the rest of us’ p130 one is not betrayed by an enemy p132 one burst only was required. p103 I lay still and heard nothing but my own pain beating like a monstrous heart p105 Her pain struck at my pain: we were back at the old routine of hurting each other p110 Perhaps truth and humility go together..’ I said. ‘Some moment of emotion.’ p143 ‘It’s not a matter of reason or justice. with my cynicism. they are always guiltless. In love we are incapable of honour . there was no one to return our fire.’ p168 ‘There’s always a point of change. p142 ‘I’m not fighting a colonial war.’ Heng said.the courageous act is not more than playing a part to an audience of two. All you can do is control them or eliminate them. If one is to remain human’ p166 I thought that perhaps I could frighten Pyle into inactivity by warning him of his danger. p155 Part IV ‘Sometimes he is just weary of deception’ p160 only the heart decays. I was right about the facts. it is to be in love with the falsified and exalted image of yourself. and wasn’t he perhaps a better man for a girl to spend her life with?’ pp148-149 ‘I thought you took no sides’ p149 he’ll always be innocent. You are neutral’ p120 Whispers are dangerous p121 Part III ‘You don’t follow your own principles.A Ticking Mind Teacher Reference. Fowler. Oh. but wasn’t he right too to be young and mistaken. p162 ‘Sooner or later. you can’t blame the innocent.’ p171 I had judged like a journalist in terms of quantity and I had betrayed my own principles’ p175 Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American 7 . so many lies come from our pride p113 ‘you are English. To be in love is to see yourself as someone else sees you.’ p144 compared his idealism.
• Page 124: Fowler tells Pyle how tough Phuong is. this is contrasted with Pyle’s earnest involvement. • Pages 109-110: Fowler reads letter from Helen. • Pages 148-149: Fowler confronts Pyle. • Page 49: Pyle tells Fowler he is in love with Phuong. Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American 8 . • Page 155: Fowler understands that he must act.A Ticking Mind Teacher Reference. the Economic Attache (Joe) and Fowler discuss the ‘damned colonial war’ dismissively while getting drunk and trying to procure girls. • Pages 69-70: Pyle tells Phuong he wants to marry her . passage culminates with Fowler explaining that at home there were ‘problems’. • Pages 86-88: Fowler and Pyle argue about the philosophies behind war. Ask students to think about the role that each character in the passage feels they have. his wife. • Page 168: Fowler discusses with Pyle the complications of life. • Pages 26-28: Granger. Get them to identify what the conflict is in each passage. • Page 144: Captain Trouin tells Fowler what he thinks about the war. What action does each character take? • Pages 20-22: Fowler explains that he is not involved. Activities Key Passages Ask students to read through the following passages.Phuong says no.
Fowler Heng Pyle Vigot Phuong Miss Hei Look at the roles closest to the characters. Role Culpability Cut out the following roles and arrange them on a continuum from most culpable to least culpable. bystander victim assistant protagonist facilitator collaborator follower witness perpetrator confidante tempter antagonist individualist believer instigator mentor hero sidekick villain leader sceptic/cynic Arrange each of the characters in The Quiet American along the same continuum. Does closest role descriptor match up to the character? Why? Why not? Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American 9 .A Ticking Mind Teacher Reference.
Reactions to Conflict The following are some of the possible reactions that people can have to conflict. Reaction Avoidance Confrontation Distraction (create alternative conflict) Be victimised Stand By Accommodate Compromise Collaborate Character Conflict Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American 10 . Looking at the list. Try to come up with at least two examples for each.A Ticking Mind Teacher Reference. think about characters in The Quiet American who may have acted in the following ways.
a) Give students the attached sheet ‘Conflict Scenarios’.and which responses they would change? Ask students why there might be these differences? d) Ask students to look through the list of events. Second and considered responses to conflict: This is what we do when we’ve had some time to think about the conflict we’re in and what we can do about it. get students to read back through the scenarios they commented on. reflex or first responses to conflict: This is what we do when we first come across a conflict situation.A Ticking Mind Teacher Reference. Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American 11 . b) After the 60 seconds have finished. Give them 60 seconds to read through all the scenarios and make a comment next to each about how they would respond. One way that makes sense with The Quiet American is to divide out encounters with conflict into two: • • Instinctive. This activity is designed to get students thinking about how we respond to conflict differently when we are under pressure to respond quickly compared to when we have time to think about it. Which ones require instant action which ones can be thought about? What is the likely difference in outcomes between these events? The scenarios are attached. Conflict scenarios There are many ways we can thinking about encountering conflict. Which actions would they change now they have more time to think about it? c) Discuss as a class what student’s initial responses were to some conflicts .
A Ticking Mind Teacher Reference. using those lines as a guide. Vocabulary Exercise Using the online tool www. Ask students to write six of the new words they have learned (three roles and three reactions) on post-it notes. Give them three more post-it notes each. Students should arrange these nine notes into a random grid on their table.visuwords. come up with a vocabulary list for each of the Conflict Roles and Conflict Reactions. Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American 12 . and ask them to write three characters’ names on them (one for each note). Make sure that you have at least three alternative words for each of the words provided above. like this: Students should now draw horizontal. they will need to have practice using them. vertical and diagonal lines that link three words from the grid together.com. students should create eight sentences from these randomly generated words. When the students have done this.
Looking at the pictures below. think about what sorts of conflict you are seeing.A Ticking Mind Teacher Reference. Pictures of Conflict This is a lateral thinking exercise. Where in The Quiet American do you see these sorts of conflict? What characters are affected by the conflict? What choices do they make? What roles do they play? Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American 13 .
students should think about the conflicts faced by the main characters and how these can compare with the characters in TQA. Pyle is exactly like the character of Rachael in Glee: well-intentioned but ultimately destructive. is to ask them to draw parallels between ‘real life’ and The Quiet American. How is Fowler like the seven dwarves in Snow White? To do this. Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American 14 . For example: Fowler’s attitude shift parallels the shift in the character of Jake Sully in Avatar.A Ticking Mind Teacher Reference. Drawing Parallels One of the useful ways to get thinking about their context. films or TV show they have recently seen. What are three of the conflicts that Fowler faces? What are two of the conflicts that Pyle faces? What is the conflict that Phuong faces? What is Vigot’s conflict? Rather than you giving students examples such as the ones above (because sadly for them students were born after Ghostbusters). Discuss. From these texts. or between TQA and other texts. Do you agree? How is Fowler like Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) in Ghostbusters? How is Phuong’s dilemma similar to Isabella’s in Twilight? How is the westerners’ response to the Indochine War in TQA like white Australians’ response to Aboriginal issues? Pyle can be compared with George W. Bush during the war in Afghanistan. you can ask them to brainstorm three books. discuss. students will first need to think about the conflicts that each of the characters in TQA face.
parallel texts and real life. students should attempt to organise each of the examples into 3 or 4 piles. Persuasive The key to persuasive writing is to develop students’ capacity to take a prompt statement and turn it into a proposition. students should amass 25 contrasting or similar ways in which people encounter conflict. they should sort through their index cards to establish which examples they can and cannot use.develop a character that reflects a character from The Quiet American somehow 1 Setting . These could be responses such as: • • • • Thomas Fowler: ‘Why I needed to have Pyle killed’ Pyle: ‘Why I risked collateral damage in bombing the market-place’ Trouin: ‘Why I drop napalm on villages’ Phuong: ‘Why I left Thomas’ If writing creative stories. Creative One way of getting students to mix both creative.A Ticking Mind Teacher Reference. Ultimately. students need to think about having: • • • 1 Character .think about the way characters respond to conflict. it to get them to write responses from character perspectives. A prompt statement will typically read something like this: ‘It is difficult to remain a bystander in times of conflict. They should put these examples on index cards for future reference. we must / must not.develop a setting where a character is likely to come across problems of conflict Many problems . persuasive and expository responses. we need to / need not to’ Students can practise this process by systematically going through a long list of Encountering Conflict Context prompts and turning them into propositions. A proposition should: • Propose an action • Use phrases such as: ‘we should / should not. These piles will form the basis of their paragraphs in an essay. Then. What are all the different problems this character could come across? Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American 15 . Getting Started with Writing Expository = Compare & Contrast In order to have the best preparation for writing a detailed expository essay.’ Students need to re-write this statement into a proposition. students will need to have many examples of the ways in which people encounter conflict. according to similar ideas. When students are given a prompt. They should develop a list of examples from the text. with the pile of usable examples.
all we can do is live each day. It is impossible to be a person of integrity in conflict. It is impossible to escape conflict. In order to resolve conflict. In conflict. Bystanders are as culpable as perpetrators. Conflict makes people act outside their comfort zones. It is not always clear how we should react to conflict. Identifying the hero and the villain is a matter of perspective. the more varied peoples’ responses will be. Prompts People in positions of power are not affected by conflict. The longer conflict continues.A Ticking Mind Teacher Reference. We cannot do anything to make conflict more bearable. Encountering Conflict: The Quiet American 16 . the difference between hero and villain is not always clear. you must confront it.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?