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Literature Sample Essay

Irony in The Quiet American
The Quiet American is a novel written by British writer Graham Greene and it was first published in 1955. The story is set in Saigon at the end of the first Indochina war and portrays two different struggles which mirror each other in some ways and are complete opposites in others. The first struggle is a romantic triangle which has formed between Thomas Fowler (the British reporter), his Vietnamese girlfriend i.e. Phuong and Alden Pyle who is the quiet American as suggested in the title. However, as the story progresses we find that the title may not be apt since the American is anything but quiet.

Irony forms a major part of the novel’s subtext since there are several situations where the actions, words and doings of the characters seem to run counter to their given nature. Irony can also be seen in the historical context under which the novel was first written keeping in mind the backgrounds of the characters and their representative world views. Finally, irony can be observed in how the characters interact with each other to the extent that allies become enemies and friends betray each other.

Starting with the most obvious case of irony which comes across early in the book as the relationship between Phuong and Pyle is developing. Pyle dances with Phuong while Fowler watches them dance and afterwards Pyle says to Fowler, “Forgive me for taking Miss Phuong from you (Greene, 1955, Pg. 44)” while in actuality, Phuong was not really taken by Pyle yet. Ironically enough the only reply Fowler can manage is that he likes “watching her dance (Greene, 1955, Pg. 44)”. They both love the same woman and while Pyle is taking her away from Fowler, all he can do is watch.

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