Innocence in In Graham Greene's The Quiet American Essay

Innocence in In Graham Greene's The Quiet American Essay

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Innocence, Ignorance, and Idealism

In Graham Greene's The Quiet American, the themes of naivety and innocence are in constant and direct conflict with the reality and crudeness of the Vietnam War. Sometimes Greene sees innocent people as helpless victims of the devastation others wreak, like the soldiers who are killed when Fowler and Pyle shelter in their tower. More often though, he regards innocence as a kind of pre-moral condition. There are frequent references to the ignorance of the innocent character of Alden Pyle. An extremely idealistic and naive American, Pyle represents the innocence of the inexperienced who are exposed too early in life to a situation as concrete as a war in the battlefield. The innocence of Pyle is displayed through his ruinous idealism that culminates in his murder, his work for General Thé, and Pyle's personification of America as an international powerhouse.
Innocence is perceived as dangerous because it prevents Pyle from seeing how he could and is injuring others. Idealism is a form of innocence, but it differs in that it is capable of so much more damage to society. It is used to justify extreme actions, just for the sake of it. Pyle is clearly the representation of idealism, and Greene goes on to write how there is no place for idealism in warfare. It is selfish and impractical; nothing in the world is ideal, nor is it capable of becoming so. The Quiet American seems unusual in that it presents a case against innocence, a characteristic that is usually seen as virtuous. Idealists present a particular predicament because the nature of their principles excuses them from blame for the destruction, which they certainly cause, which is why it is described as "a kind of insanity." (163) Through Fo...


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...cter of an American in order to show the imperceptiveness of Americans towards an unfamiliar culture on the opposite side of the planet and the senselessness of the intervention in general. The character of the young American Alden Pyle is naïve and convinced in the rightness of his deeds, even though he actually brings on a tragedy. His innocence poses a problem in that his good intentions informed by the simplistic belief that the world can be fixed and things set right only succeeds in killing people. On the war grounds, the only matter of significance is survival, not idealization. It is about fighting to live and being in control on the battlefield. Hence, in this story, innocence is simply a very dangerous thing to hold on to. In the end, Fowler blames innocence alone for the demise of Pyle, and he speaks of innocence as if it were a curse, and not a strength.

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