Commentary Magazine


Article Preview

On the Horizon:
America and "The Quiet American"

- Abstract

Mrs. Trilling writes:

May I comment on Philip Rahv’s review of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American (May 1956)? Mr. Rahv is a friend of mine as well as an editor and critic whom I much respect and admire. But I find his review an insufficient and even misleading appraisal of the political content of Mr. Greene’s novel, the more disturbing because it represents a point of view rather widely held among American intellectuals today.

The politics of The Quiet American is not at all difficult to comprehend. It can be as readily characterized as the literary quality of the book, which Mr. Rahv so simply and forthrightly dismisses as a thriller. The Quiet American is an entirely orthodox statement of the neutralist position. Its hero is a British journalist whose whole intellectual and moral weight (such as it is) rests on his refusal to take political sides. Its villain is an American government agent, a newcomer to Indo-China, where the story is set, who infuriates the protagonist by his arrogant innocence and by his readiness to intervene in areas where he is incompetent to assess the social and political realities. According to Mr. Greene’s fantasy of American activity abroad, it turns out that the American is making bombs in Indo-China in order to promote some undefined popular movement which Mr. Greene calls the “Third Force.” One of the bombs goes off and accomplishes no better than might have been expected of a product of the American effort: it kills a lot of helpless women and children. At this, the hero, who never takes sides, rushes over to the local Communists, whose virtues are as unspecified by Mr. Greene as the nature of his Third Force. Together, he and the Communists contrive the murder of the American before he shall do any more damage with his good-will program.



About the Author