Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American, properly characterizes and criticizes a strand of American idealism, particularly in regards to international politics, that was prevalent during the middle to middle-late 20th century. During the 1950s, the United States was becoming an international superpower. World War II had been devastating for numerous countries around the world, but the United States stood to benefit tremendously given that it played a significant role in ending the war and establishing the peace terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
The United States’ military, economic, and cultural successes that were derived from their victory in World War II imbued their government, media, and general citizenry with a reinvigorated sense of national purpose and pride. And because the United States had entered the war later than their allies had, their war resources, troop levels, and overall morale were not as deplenished as England’s or France’s. As a result, the United States took their newfound role of being the leading advocate for liberal democracies (in the economic sense) quite seriously in hopes that these successes would be replicated globally. Expansion of this American idealism was the impetus behind many decisions made at the international, national, and local levels within American society.
Yet not all were as impressed by the United States’s new international presence, English author Graham Greene being one of them. Greene’s criticism of this particular form of American idealism centers around three distinct yet interrelated psychological concepts: ignorance, inconsistency, and, ultimately, ignorance. Individually, each one of these traits carries with it potentially negative consequences. When combined, these negative consequences are compounded and made more complex. Greene’s novel does an excellent job of providing concrete examples to these abstract concepts within the context of historically relevant environments. Continue reading
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