Although Pittsburgh rarely stars in popular stories, it makes frequent cameos. This is the first in an occasional series of posts tracking those appearances. The way storytellers use the word “Pittsburgh” as a symbol offers insights into how the nation views the city.
Graham Greene’s 1955 novel “The Quiet American” follows a rivalry between Tom Fowler, an older British journalist, and Alden Pyle, an idealistic American aide worker, in Vietnam during the First Indochina War. Granger is a minor character, a boorish but hardnosed journalist. If Pyle is the “quiet” American, Granger is the “loud” one.
The following scene comes at the end of the book. Without spoiling the plot, I’ll only say cryptically that Fowler is distraught. At a local haunt, he runs into Granger holding court at a table full of people. Granger gives Fowler the stink eye and then invites him outside.
(A note for context: The story takes place in the late 1940s or early 1950s. The book itself came out in England in December 1955. Dr. Salk announced his vaccine in April 1955.)
He leant on the parapet of the bridge and the two policemen watched him from a distance. He said, “I’ve got to talk to you Fowler.”
I came within striking distance and waited. He didn’t move. He was like an emblematic statue of all I thought I hated in America — as ill-designed as the Statue of Liberty and as meaningless. He said without moving, “You think I’m pissed. You’re wrong.”
“What’s up, Granger?”
“I got to talk to you, Fowler. I don’t want to sit there with those Frogs tonight. I don’t like you, Fowler, but you talk English. A kind of English.” He leant there, bulky and shapeless in the half-light, an unexplored continent.
“What do you want, Granger?”
“I don’t like Limies,” Granger said. “I don’t know why Pyle stomachs you. Maybe it’s because he’s Boston. I’m Pittsburgh and proud of it.”
“There you are again.” He made a feeble attempt to mock my accent. “You all talk like poufs. You’re so damned superior. You think you know everything.”
“Good-night, Granger. I’ve got an appointment.”
“Don’t go, Fowler. Haven’t you got a heart? I can’t talk to those Froggies.”
“I’ve had two glasses of champagne, that’s all, and wouldn’t you be drunk in my place. I’ve got to go north.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Oh, I didn’t tell you, did I? I keep on thinking everyone knows. I got a cable this morning from my wife.”
“My son’s got polio. He’s bad.”
“You needn’t be. It’s not your kid.”
“Can’t you fly home?”
“I can’t. They want a story about some damned mopping-up operations near Hanoi and Connolly’s sick.” (Connolly was his assistant.)
“I’m sorry, Granger. I wish I could help.”
“It’s his birthday tonight. He’s eight at half past ten our time. That’s why I laid on a party with champagne before I knew. I had to tell someone, Fowler, and I can’t tell these Froggies.”
“They can do a lot for polio nowadays.”