Orientalism In Greenes The Quiet American
ORIENTALISM IN GREENE’S THE QUIET AMERICAN
The world is composed of two different sides according to the modern, Western approach. It is divided into two not only geographically but also culturally, politically, economically, and even linguistically. These are differentiated as East and West. Edward Said has put forward the notion of Orientalism. He conceptualized that the Orient and Occident differ from each other substantially, first of all, because the people in the West and East have strikingly different worldviews in ontological and epistemological aspects. Secondly, it refers to a way of powerful West establishing dominance over the weak East and Western oppression of Eastern. This understanding results in an unequal relationship between East and West. Westerners, who have little actual knowledge of the East, appreciate the view of Orientalism and they also cherish some prejudice against and curiosity on the Orient. (Said, 12) Orientalism is founded upon the historical relationship between Eastern and Western cultures throughout the history, which is full of power struggle. The West, which has been the powerful side for the last centuries, has constructed a certain image of East mentally. For a long period of time, the Oriental in the eyes of Westerners has been both “stupid” and “lazy” on the one hand, but on the other hand, the Orient itself is certainly somewhat “mysterious” and attractive for its being far from the imperial center and the metropolitan countries. (Said, 28) The East is usually connoted to being weak, dependent, ignorant, traditional, conservative, religious, oppressed. Such approach of labeling the Eastern mentally, the West created a world of Others, to be controlled, guided, protected, educated, democratized, suppressed, and colonized. The imperialism of the Third World, underdeveloped countries in the East by the Western so-called superpowers of the world is a striking phenomenon in the last centuries supporting the view of Orientalism. Orientalism reflects how Westerners regard Easterners.
On the other hand, as a counter-argument to the Orientalism, there arises the idea of Occidentalism. This, contrarily, represents the outlook of the Easterners about Westerners. Colonialism and exploitation of raw material in the Eastern world by the world of West has given birth to the reaction of the Orient against West. Wang Ning describes the theory of Occidentalism as “Occidentalism manifests itself as an antagonistic form that strongly opposes Western hegemonism” (Ning, 62) Occidentalism is a response to the conception of Orientalism in the West.
I am not going to side with either Orientalism or Occidentalism in this paper, but I am going to focus on the themes of East and West in the novel, The Quiet American by Graham Greene, a 20th century British author.
The Quiet American is set in French colonial Vietnam in the 1950’s. French forces want to colonize Vietnam, while China supports the communist regime for the Vietnamese. On the other hand, America aims at keeping Vietnam away from colonial and communist powers, because only a “third force” could bring the happiness and security in the country. The novel is based upon a love triangle between people from different cultures: Phuong – Fowler, and Phuong Pyle. Fowler is a middle-aged British journalist who works in Saigon. He lives with Phuong, but cannot marry her since his British wife is against divorcing. Pyle is “the young quiet American” who has come to Vietnam to make his ideals real. He promises marriage to Phuong and is also approved by Phuong’s sister. He falls in love with her when he first meets her in a party. Phuong is a very young Vietnamese girl, whom the men cannot share. Phuong, at first, prefers Fowler to Pyle, however she abandons him taking her dowries and scarf collection to Pyle’s house as a sign of acknowledging Pyle’s proposal. Pyle is found dead as the reader is informed at the beginnings of the novel and it proceeds with flashbacks to the former events.
It is diligent to differentiate the novel both in and out of the historical context. The author uses a lot of factual materials in his novel. There are some parallels between what happens in the novel and what actually happens. Greene, for instance, was a British journalist observing a war about 1950’s and he had left her wife as the protagonist-hero Thomas Fowler did. In addition, in the very beginning of the novel, Greene asks for permission to dedicate the book to Phuong, a woman from Saigon with whom Greene spent 5 years since he names one of the main characters in the novel after her. Greene also confesses that Theï€» dies later. In addition, Second Indo-China War really takes place. Greene talks about the Vertical Raid In Vietnam, he experienced in 15 November 1951, in his memoir published in The Listener in 15 September. He tells the details of the raid which he similarly conveys in the novel under the role of Thomas Fowler. In one of the interviews, Greene says he still could not forget having seen the baby after the bombing, which is also narrated in the novel. Still, “Greene told his readers, as much as the friends to whom he addressed his prefatory letter in The Quiet American, that ‘This is a story and not a piece of history,’ less because that was true than because he wanted the book read within a certain framework of assumed and agreed-upon literary conventions” (Taylor, 300) The reader cannot assume everything to be true in the novel, however the factual materials used makes the novel stronger in terms of reflecting the approach of Westerners and Easterners to each other.
The characters mainly come from different cultures. They both carry some individualistic and cultural characteristics as well. They represent the culture they come from. Both Fowler and Pyle represent the Occidental world, whereas Phuong represents the Oriental world.
First of all, Fowler is a British reporter who lives in Vietnam during the beginning of the participation of the United States in the war in Vietnam. He is a man who has fears about life and loneliness; he has the melancholic attitude most of the times. He says that “Loneliness lay in my bed and I took loneliness into my arms at night.”(Greene, 140) He is so afraid that he even hates the future as if he can be lonely then. He actually wants to maintain his life with Phuong, even without marriage, as a consequence of this feeling of staying alone. He enjoys abusing Phuong sexually so as to avoid loneliness and obtain some pleasure. He is also an opium addict who thinks there is no smell like opium’s, which shows his desire to escape reality, and not to think about his future. And he is a Western man who has the attitude of an Orientalist towards Vietnamese. He judges the East according to his Western perception, that is he doesn’t try to understand the Orient according to the conditions of the East and establish some empathy. He expresses his idea about Phuong as;
“Phuong on the other hand was wonderfully ignorant; if Hitler had come into the conversation she would have interrupted to ask who he was. The explanation would be all the more difficult because she had never met a German or a Pole and had only the vaguest knowledge of European geography…” (Greene, 12)
He regards Phuong as ignorant because she doesn’t know Hitler, and he supposes that she does not know anything only because she does not have the knowledge of European geography. Nonetheless, surely, Phuong is knowledgeable about the things related to her culture. She is a good cook, for example. He evaluates an Eastern according to Western values not Eastern. He can only accept a person as cultivated only if she has the knowledge of the West. Fowler sees an Eastern as an ignorant as most Orientalists think about Eastern people.
Also in the book the Easterners are introduced as superstitious. “It was a superstition among them that a lover who smoked would always return…” (Greene, 13) The Easterners are superstitious while the Westerners are rational and reasonable and truth seeker. Fowler has some prejudice about people although he is not aware of his own weaknesses, and actually is devoid of rationality and truth. His wife explains this in her response to his letter for divorce.
“You say it will be the end of life to lose that girl. Once you used exactly the phrase to me—I could show you the letter, I have it still –and I suppose you wrote in the same way to Anne. You say that we’ve always tried to tell the truth to each other, but, Thomas, your truth is always so temporary.”
His wife talks about him as he is a man pursuing the temporary desires, and he is not reliable. He is a man who lives according to his emotions, doesn’t think carefully and attach importance to ethics, and he has not got any religious belief, taking him to eternal truth and he is in a way a man of carpe diem philosophy. He does not care about his frailties but judge Phuong, an Eastern individual, by labeling some patterns of prejudice on them in his mind, as Orientalism suggests.
Secondly, Pyle is an idealist, naÃ¯ve, and serious “quiet American”. He is an idealist student of York Harding. Harding proposes that neither communism nor colonialism are solutions for the problems of foreign lands such as Vietnam, but rather a “third force” represented and performed by the U.S. can work best. He reads Harding’s books such as The Role of the West, The Advance of Red China, The Challenge to Democracy. He tries to live exactly Harding suggests in his books. Fowler criticizes such attitude very frequently and teases Pyle a lot by referring to Harding in some cases. Once he accuses the books Pyle reads and Harding of the murder of Pyle when the inspector questions him about it. This notion of Pyle reflects how Orientalist Pyle is. He thinks The East needs some problem solvers, and they cannot solve problems since they are weak. They need the help of a strong Western force, which is the America.
Pyle is really naÃ¯ve. He blushes when he talks to a woman, especially, Phuong. Some vulgar men take him to the House of Five Hundred Women, but he cannot handle among prostitutes. He is presumably a virgin, Fowler thinks. He concludes this from Pyle’s book, The Physiology of Marriage. For him Fowler says: “I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused–becomes a catalyst for broader questions of the morality of colonialism and war?” (Greene, 10) Pyle may seem very innocent and have very good intentions, however the motive behind his actions, to establish the “third force” in Vietnam puts him into a difficult position I terms of morality. As a result of his dangerous motives, he can include himself with the business of importing military material for the U.S in Vietnam and making some bicycle bombs and causing the death of lots of people. After bombing the cafÃ©, he says that he had “warned” Phuong about it, and Fowler, whom Pyle calls Thomas, his Christian name, gets really upset about it, especially seeing a baby dying. That’s how innocence turns into a catastrophe in Pyle’s case. He has an Orientalist stance against Vietnamese, and attaches no significance to the lives of those “in cause of democracy”. Those Easterners should be democratized and be saved from colonialism and communism.
Also the title of the book is addressed to Pyle as The Quiet American. He was a quiet man but however there is an irony in it, because, indeed, it is Fowler who wants to be in peace, and quietness. Until Pyle interrupted in their lives, he was a man content with what life has brought to him. He was happy with his quiet house, quiet mistress, peace and tranquility in his own life, although it is not peaceful in Vietnam at all. But when Pyle emerged in the middle of their lives, his life began to be haunted by fear and sadness. On the other hand, Fowler may be a “quiet American”, but he is really dangerous. His very innocence and youth, however, are dangerous, and lead not only to Fowler losing Phuong, but to a deeper tragedy. His ideals threaten the whole nation of Vietnam, The Eastern.
Pyle does all he does for the sake of the good of The East, because only America can be an answer to the questions and troubles of Vietnam he thinks.
McEwan suggests that “Those who bring immature optimism to adult responsibilities are more likely to serve hell, however good their intentions, the boyish Pyle is a destructor. The plans of the CIA, which he represents are childish.” (McEwan, 16)
He immaturely, and in a childish way devotes himself to the advice of Harding and Theï‚¢ firmly. He adopts the Machiavellian philosophy, “End justifies the means.”, to reach his ideals. He is responsible for “bicycle bombings”. He is also responsible for the bomb explosion in the “milk-bar”. He does all for the sake of his ideals. Fowler get really annoyed at his method. He says to Pyle that:
“ You have put General Theï‚¢on the map all right, Pyle. You have got the Third Force and National Democracy all over your right shoe. Go home to Phuong and tell her about your heroic dead- there are a few thousand less of her people to worry about. (Greene, 162)
He attaches no importance to the lives of Eastern. They are not valuable for him. He contends that he does all for the good of the East, but in fact he does not really care about them at all. Moreover, he is not conscious of the cost of his actions. He cannot identify the blood on his shoes and just responds that he needs to get them cleaned before he sees the Minister. Fowler tells in bewilderment “I don’t know he knew what he was saying. He was seeing a real war for the first time.” (Greene, 162) Pyle, seemingly very innocent, can disregard the lives of Easters. He “warned” Phuong not to go there as she usually does as a routine, however he had not warned “the torso in the square, the baby on its mother’s lap”?
In addition, Pyle has the motive of protection in his love for Phuong. He puts forward that he can preserve Phuong by marrying her. He explains his love to Fowler in order to appear honorable and then exclaims that he is in love with the woman Fowler is also in love. He says, “ I wanted to protect her.”(56) Fowler denies it by saying she is not in need of the protection of anyone. The attitude how Pyle approaches Phuong is interesting. It is very similar how Westerners regard Easterners in Orientalist view. Orientals are weak, feeble, powerless, thus they are in need of a powerful, strong one, the West.
There is a power and love struggle between Pyle and Fowler. They both fall in love with the same girl, the Oriental Phuong. They actually have different reasons to love her. While Pyle does it for protection, Fowler loves so as to avoid loneliness and “to sleep with her”. At first Phuong chooses Fowler to Pyle, however she abandons him for Pyle later. Fowler wants to keep her although he cannot divorce from his wife in England. He even tells some lies in order to maintain her presence with him. He claims his wife is going to divorce, is convinced to divorce, but later the truth is disclosed as a result of the letters read by Phuong’s sister. “Because it was a pack of lies. I trusted you, Thomas. You shouldn’t trust anyone when there’s a woman in the case.” (Greene, 131) said Pyle. Fowler lied him whereas Pyle didn’t betray him when he said he will not speak to Phuong before he talks the issue with Fowler, and he doesn’t even see Phuong in the absence of Thomas to be fair. However was it fair of Pyle to propose to Phuong? “She’ll just have to choose between us, Thomas. That’s fair enough.’ But was it fair?” (Greene, 58) questions Fowler as well. This love triangle is an international triangle. All members belong to different cultures. Therefore, the struggle can be perceived on a larger scale as well.
“The inner story, the struggle for control over Phuong, functions as metonymy, or representation in miniature, for the larger struggle. Phuong is the East, the Third World; Fowler the Old, and Pyle the New.” (Miller, 109)
Phuong is enchantingly beautiful, but resourceful, fertile, and driven to an instinct to survive. She pursues her interests, with the insistence of her sister Miss Mei, in a way compatible to her nature. The hopes of Fowler diminish after he learns his wife refuses to divorce as the hopes of France diminish, but still remain there because of the wishes of the politicians. On the other hand, Pyle’s innocent desire to protect her is as dangerous as American ideal to rescue Vietnam. Pyle’s death can be considered as salvation of Vietnam as much as a salvation for Phuong.
Although Fowler seems stronger, the effect, which Pyle has left on him, is great. Pyle comes and the peace diminishes, thus everything will change for Fowler, and he will start to think of life more deeply. These Westerners can only be rivals to each other in their competition to get the Eastern, so in the end that gets the Eastern Phuong has won the battle and found the happiness. There is a severe rivalry between Fowler and Pyle. Sometimes they can behave very rudely.
Fowler talks about Pyle and says “ In his way. You’re a Roman Catholic. You wouldn’t recognize his way. And anyway, he was a damned Yankee.” (Greene, 19-20) Fowler is obviously angry at Pyle, and he has the fear that perhaps with his innocence and youth Pyle can get Phuong. “Oh, I was right about the facts, but wasn’t he right too to be young and mistaken, and wasn’t he perhaps a better man for a girl to spend her life with?” (Greene, 165) He sometimes cannot stand thinking that Pyle deserves the Eastern more since he is younger, and can easily get married if he wishes. They may label the Eastern as ignorant, and in need of protection, still they are curious about what is Eastern, they find it mysterious and attractive as it occurs in the case of Phuong.
Thirdly, Phuong is the dream of two men, the attractive, the woman that cannot be shared with her mysticism, her exoticism, and mystery she attracts the men. She is the woman, from old to young, men desire her, they even spoil their friendship for the sake of her, and she is the woman because of whom Fowler tries hard to get divorced, she is the woman who causes, without knowing, the death of a man. She is such a woman in whose quietness men find peace. Even if she seems ignorant for them, men do not care about it. She is the attractive, and mysterious Oriental, for whom the Occidentals have been trying hard to get. This is not just the story of love but also the relationship of East and the West.
Furthermore, Phuong is presented very eager to see the West, as she dreams of going there with Fowler or Pyle. She is a quiet girl but in these things she talks much and eagerly. Thus in the book the East is demonstrated as admired to the West. Phuong asks Fowler whether there are skyscrapers, Statue of Liberty, double decker buses in London? She wants to go to London or New York in a way. She feels admiration for the West. IN contrast to the Occidental idea, she respects and admires what is Occidental. Her sister encourages her to marry with a Westerner who have money, however Fowler does not seem to be a good choice according to her since he is married.
Phuong’s sister is another representative of the East. Miss Hei is a woman who insists on getting her sister married to a rich man. Thus, she doesn’t approve of her sister’s relationship with a married man, so she becomes very happy to meet Pyle. Moreover she asks him many questions about him and his family, in those questions her ignorance is seen:
“ You come from New York’ she asked.
No. From Boston.
That’s in United States too?
Oh yes. Yes.
Is your father a businessman?
Not really. He is a professor.
A teacher? She asked with a faint note of disappointment.
Well, he’s a kind of authority, you know. People consult him.
About health? Is he a doctor?….” (Greene, 42)
This shows how ignorant the sister of Phuong is, she is the greedy sister who desires her sister to marry a rich man. She also works for an American company.
When Thomas lied Pyle, for the sake of Phuong, Pyle with tears in his voice:
“Wouldn’t you have won without lying?
No. This is European duplicity, Pyle. We have to make up for our lack of supplies…” (Greene, 131)
It is another evidence that how honest, innocent and moral Pyle is in his behavior.
“His words come from the other side of a line, or from deep within a warp, which Greene’s characters never really cross to enter—this despite the fact that Greene too knows the obscenity of war, and that Pyle lives and dies within a kind of moral warp.” (Taylor, 307)
As Fowler is in a sense guilty of Pyle’s death, that he sends him to the place where they can easily kill him, does not just make him lose his enemy in love but also it is an action which would make him feel the guilt in his veins, also another big and important thing is that whereas Pyle was too good-intentioned to save his life, Fowler was corrupted enough to kill his savior. Moreover Pyle doesn’t only give his lover back to him as a present but also two important things to Fowler; first of all Pyle saved his life, literally. The second is that Pyle shows him such a lesson that maybe he couldn’t have shown such an awakening if Pyle hadn’t done it. Yes, it was Fowler who won the battle, and who was victorious to win the exotic beauty, but was it a real victory? After the drunkenness of the victory faded Fowler wandered in his thoughts:
“I thought of the first day and Pyle sitting beside me at the Continental, with his eye on the soda-fountain across the way. Everything had gone right with me since he had died, but how I wished there existed someone to whom I could say that I was sorry.” (Greene, 189)
He is regretful now, and desires to say sorry. But it is too late. Was it fair that he won the battle by playing trick? Or was it fair of Pyle to come and spoil all their order and try to steal his girl friend? however as Fowler says:
“And walking that morning months later with Phuong beside me, I thought, ‘And did you understand her either? Could you have anticipated that situation? Phuong so happily asleep beside me and you dead?’ Time has its revenges, but revenges seem so often sour. Wouldn’t we all do better not trying to understand, accepting the fact that no human being will ever understand another, not a wife a husband, a lover a mistress, nor a parent a child…” (Greene, 60)
The book actually tells so many stories, one can find many things that he can apply to his life, the book also tells the inner journey of Fowler after his founding peace with his love Phuong. She was not just the woman in his arms but also the bridge, which took him to the journey of thoughts, he understood that how he hurt his wife, how he hurt Anne, and at least how he hurt Pyle. He did all those for his desires, he wanted peace but actually he was the prevention that spoiled the peace in his life. He was a man of temporaries, he was not thinking anything but peace, he was escaping by smoking his opium. This was not just the story of love, but the man who finds his peace at last by dwelling deeply into his thoughts and understanding where was he guilty, where did he make mistakes.
In conclusion, Graham Greene’s The Quiet American demonstrates the relationship between different cultures, and how East approaches West and West approaches East on a plot framed upon love relationship, war, colonialism, and conspiracy. It can be concluded that Westerners have a certain image of East in their minds and behave them according to this, which is called Orientalist approach by Edward Said.
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