Guilty innocence

Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would do so much better to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost its bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm." So Graham Greene writes in The Quiet American, a novel that plumbs the moral dangers of innocence. That quality is embodied in the character of Pyle, an idealist in early-1950s Indochina who turns out to be a CIA operative working to help a ruthless general gain power. The Boston aristocrat Pyle sees the world in black and white, and the charismatic General Thé, with his Yankee alliances, as a good guy. When Thé's men bomb a milk bar, Pyle walks among the bodies of the dead and wounded in a daze, unable to process what he sees.

 

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