Graham Greene (1904-1991)

Graham Greene is a contradictory writer, possessing a great force of conviction whose late novels seem to show a very rapid development towards critical realism. Greene would characterize himself as a realist and a religious writer, for he is a Catholic whose books have brought him an international estimation.

Graham Greene was born in 1904 at Berkhamstead. His father Charles Henry Greene was a headmaster of the local church school. Henry Greene was a true Catholic. This fact strongly influenced the views of the writer since his very childhood.

Graham Greene was educated at Oxford. After graduating from it he became a subeditor of the “London Times” from 1926 to 1930. Greene had travelled widely. He had been to all parts of Mexico which later became a scene of many of his novels. He -first came to notice of the literary world with his novels of 1930’s, such as “Brighton Rock” (1938) and “The Power and the Glory” (1940). With these books he introduced his own genre, the thriller based on moral significance.

Brighton Rock” has at its centre an evil man who thinks he can conquer everything and everyone who stands in his way. He is outside the laws of man, but for Greene, only God’s law is strong enough to reach him; his soul can be saved because he loves.

The Power and the Glory” is considered to be one of his best novels. It tells the story of a priest in South America who is in danger and has to choose between saving his soul (by continuing acting as a priest) and his body, either by escaping or refusing from his action as a priest. The characters who are failures are seen as being nearer God than those who are more successful in worldly ways.

Since the beginning of his literary career Graham Greene wrote along two lines: the so-called “serious novels” and “the entertaining novels”. While the first are generally psychology of Man, the second are more of the detective types of novels. The plot of such a novel is always exciting and violent. But all of his “entertaining” books have one common feature — the humanism of the author, his profound psychological analysis of the characters and the social problems of the day. The novels of “entertainment” are “Stamboul Train” (1932), “The Confidential Agent” (1939), “Our Man in Havana” (1958).

But the greatest recognition Graham Greene gained with the appearance of his “The Quiet American” (1955). The novel is mostly political, and it brings forward the most important problem in the progressive bourgeois literature of our days — the problem of choice. For the first time Greene strongly condemns the dirty laws of colonialism; presents the real truth of the American colonial policy.

The events in the novel occur in Viet Nam. It helps to reveal the horrors of colonialism. The “Quiet American”, Pyle, is officially employed in the Economic Aid Mission, but his real duty is to organize different acts of sabotage and provocations. Pyle’s image is drawn with great truth and very vividly. He even wins the reader’s sympathy at first: “Age thirty-two, […] with his gangly legs and his crew-cut and his wide campus gaze he seemed incapable of harm.” (Chapter I) He is strong and handsome, but he can’t do without committing a great crime against the Vietnamese people. He is a “culprit”. Such words as “grenades”, “death”, “crime”, and “bombs” are associated with Pyle’s activity. He is doing a lot of harm but is always sure of being right. His antagonist is Fowler, an English newspaper correspondent. Fowler is not young, he is tired, and he is unhappy in his private life: “But I looked cautiously at Phuong, […] hadn’t she been fond of me and hadn’t she left me for Pyle? She had attached herself to youth and hope…” His credo is not to get involved in anything, he stays neutral at first. Fowler reports only what he sees, trying to be indifferent to everything: “Once I was interested myself in what for want of a better term they call news. But grenades had staled on me.” But sooner or later one has to make a choice, and Fowler makes it. Step by step, coming into contact with the “filthy war”, he can’t help giving a hand to the patriots of Viet Nam: he betrays Pyle to the Vietnamese guerrillas:

“— He’s got to be stopped. […]

Would you be prepared to help us, Mr. Fowler?

He comes blundering in and people have to die for his mistakes. I wish your people had got him on the river from Nam Dinh. It would have made a lot of difference to a lot of lives.”

Graham Greene truthfully describes the development of an average English man who begins to understand political injustice. Furthermore, with Pyle out of the game, Fowler and Phuong come to an understanding again.

For Graham Greene the essential human tragedy lies in the gap between what man wants and what he is able to get. His mastery of the generalization of characters in this novel has brought against him the bitter criticism of the bourgeois circles.

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