Study Guide

The Quiet American Lies and Deceit

By Graham Greene

Lies and Deceit

Not that Pyle was very important. It wouldn't have done to cable the details of his true career, that before he died he had been responsible for at least fifty deaths, for it would have damaged Anglo-American relations and the Minister would have been upset. (1.1.119)

Fowler says he's not involved, and he arguably believes this about himself, and yet he knowingly reports for an institution with the agenda of hiding the truth when the truth harms the interests of the political players. He's already involved by what he can and cannot report.

'There's a rumor that the Vietminh have broken into Phat Diem, burned the Cathedral, chased out the Bishop.'
'They wouldn't tell us about that in Hanoi. That's not a victory.' (1.3.1.35-6)

No one likes to admit defeat. Sometimes this means concealing the truth. Is this a kind of deceit? Survey says…Yep.

If only, I thought, he had called our bluff from the start and told us firmly that he knew the figures but wouldn't say. After all, it was their war, not ours. We had no God-given right to information…We were not dying. (1.5.1.14)

In Fowler's mind, the reporters here have no right to the truth about the details of the war because it's not their war. Um…okay, but that's kind of missing the point, dude.

I was to see many times that look of pain and disappointment touch his eyes and mouth when reality didn't match the romantic ideas he cherished, or when someone he loved or admired dropped below the impossible standard he had set. (2.1.53)

Pyle lives in a fantasy world, meaning he deceives himself. These lies to himself get him killed, particularly the lies he tells himself about Fowler. Fowler's not the kind, straight player Pyle takes him to be.

'If they win, you'll be reporting lies.'
'There's usually a way round, and I haven't noticed too much regard for truth in our papers either.' (2.2.2.61-2)

Fowler justifies his non-involvement noting that both sides in the war lie as a matter of course.

To be in love is to see yourself as someone else sees you, it is to be in love with a falsified and exalted image of yourself. (2.2.4.45)

Sounds like something French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre might say. Does being in love mean living a lie? If so, is love itself absurd?

Perhaps truth and humility go together; so many lies come from our pride... (2.3.2.3)

Wasn't there a VeggieTales episode about this?

'What job does he do?'
'Economic Mission, but that covers a multitude of sins.' (2.3.2.13-14)

Vagueness helps with deceit.

It was better from [the police's] point of view to let people assume that the bombs were Communist. (3.1.2.21)

If lies served no purpose, they wouldn't be told and they wouldn't be tolerated.

'Secrecy is seldom important to a man who confesses: even when it's to a priest. He has other motives.'
'To cleanse himself?'
'Not always. Sometimes he only wants to see himself clearly as he is. Sometimes he is just weary of deception.' (4.1.26-8)

Vigot hopes that Fowler is this sort of person—a man weary of deception. In some ways, Vigot is more of a priest figure than the cleric Fowler meets in the cathedral or the bishop who had his own army.