The Ugly American Characters

William J. Lederer
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The Ugly American Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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Apache is a Vietnamese man who fights for the French. He is captured by the communists who cut out his vocal cords.

Solomon Asch

Solomon Asch is the head of the American delegation to the Special Armament section of the Asia Conference. He is a tough and experienced negotiator.

Emma Atkins

Emma Atkins, the wife of Homer Atkins, is a simple, straightforward woman who in her own way is as physically ugly as her husband. But also, like her husband, she has a creative and inventive mind and, in fact, supplies him with some of his best ideas. She also develops her own ideas, managing to invent a long-handled broom that the old people in Sarkhan can use in place of their short-handled brooms, which are too hard on their backs.

Homer Atkins

Homer Atkins, the “ugly American” of the book's title, is ugly in physical appearance, not in character. A tough, blunt-spoken man, he is a highly successful retired engineer who is worth $3 million. The U.S. government consults him about building dams and military roads in Southeast Asia, but he insists that what is really needed are things that the local people can manufacture and use for themselves. His advice is ignored, but Ambassador MacWhite is impressed by him and invites him to Sarkhan. In that country, Atkins, in collaboration with a Sarkhanese man named Jeepo, invents a water pump that proves to be an immense labor-saving device for the local people. Atkins sets himself up in business with Jeepo and twelve local workers, and his enterprise is a big success.

Dr. Hans Barre

Dr. Hans Barre is a naturalized American citizen who specializes in Oriental languages. He is on temporary duty at the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam and acts as interpreter during the visit of Senator Brown.

Joe Bing

Joe Bing, an American information officer living in Burma, is a gregarious, sociable man who is very popular amongst other Americans and Westerners, but he is also the kind of American disliked by Asians, since he is loud and ostentatious in his manner and does not mix with the local people. Asians are not invited to his diplomatic parties, at which there is always plenty of alcohol. He appears to think that representing the United States abroad is more about having a good time than in promoting U.S. national interests. When Gilbert MacWhite resigns as ambassador to Sarkhan, Bing is nominated by the State Department to take his place.

Captain Boning

Captain Boning is a Navy officer who takes part in the negotiations in Hong Kong about the placing of U.S. nuclear weapons on Asian soil. During the time of the conference, Boning has an affair with a local Chinese woman who is also a communist agent, and he spends most of his nights with her. Thus he is not alert during the conference sessions, and he gives hesitant answers to questions from the Asian delegates, which makes them think that the Americans are hiding something.

Senator Jonathan Brown

Senator Jonathan Brown, a tough and experienced U.S. senator, started his career as a corrupt man who granted favors to corporations in exchange for financial contributions to his campaign. But once in the Senate he changed his ways and became a man of integrity. As a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, he visits many countries in Southeast Asia to see for himself what is being done with U.S. aid. But in Vietnam his desire to meet and talk to the local people is thwarted by the plans of the embassy staff, who ensure that he talks only to military and government officials. The result is that he never does find out the real situation, but he fails to realize this.

John Colvin

John Colvin is an American who was an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) agent in Sarkhan during World War II. After the war he ran his family's business in Wisconsin, buying bulk milk and drying it into powder. In 1952, he returns to Sarkhan because he hears that the country is leaning towards communism, and he is convinced the situation is being handled badly. He tries to help the local people by selling them milk made from powder. But he runs afoul of a former friend of his named Deong, who has turned communist. Deong tricks some local women into believing that Colvin is trying to put an aphrodisiac in the milk so that he can seduce local girls. The women beat him up, almost killing him. Colvin returns to the United States but later goes back to Sarkhan and succeeds in his milk enterprise.

Jim Davis

Jim Davis, a black man from Los Angeles, is serving in the French Foreign Legion in Vietnam. He is captured by the Vietnamese, who gouge out one of his eyes.


Deong is a Sarkhanese communist who betrays his old friend John Colvin.


Donald is an old Chinese servant who has given many years of loyal service to the U.S. Embassy in Sarkhan. He does not read or write and knows almost no English. Ambassador MacWhite trusts Donald completely. However, it transpires that Donald is not quite what he appears. Through interrogation, Li Pang discovers that Donald has been passing along information from the embassy to the communists.

Father Finian

Father Finian is a Catholic priest from Boston who is assigned to Burma. A Jesuit, Father Finian has a fine intellect and is a scholar, but he is also tough-minded and practical, and he relishes the challenge of combating communism in Burma. He regards communism as an evil ideology. Father Finian makes a point of learning the local language and eating the local food, even though at first he finds it very hard to digest. He recruits nine local men who are also anticommunist Catholics and asks them what strategy they want to pursue. He does not make the mistake of imposing his own views but encourages the men to make their own decisions. Eventually, Father Finian establishes a four-year college in Burma, at which the curriculum includes study of the writings of both communist and Western leaders.

Ambassador Arthur Alexander Gray

Arthur Alexander Gray is the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam. When Senator Jonathan Brown visits, Gray makes extensive preparations with his staff to ensure that the senator only has access to the information the embassy thinks he ought to have.

Colonel Edwin B. Hillandale

Edwin B. Hillandale, a U.S. Air Force colonel, was sent to Manila, in the Philippines, in 1952. He is extremely popular with the local people because he embraces their culture. His love of jazz and his skill with the harmonica earn him the nickname The Ragtime Kid. He is not so popular, however, with the officials at the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines. But Ambassador MacWhite recognizes Hillandale's worth and invites him to Sarkhan. Hillandale's knowledge of palmistry, which is valued in the local culture, stands him in good stead at a dinner party given by the Philippine ambassador.

Thomas Elmer Knox

Thomas Elmer Knox, an American farmer from Iowa who lives for a while in Cambodia, knows more Cambodians than any other Westerner, and he loves Cambodian food. In Iowa, he raises chickens, and he is full of ideas about how the local people can improve the quality of their chickens and increase the chickens' egg yield. But when he puts his ideas to American and Cambodian agricultural experts, as well as some French officials, he gets nowhere. The officials are only interested in developing canals and mechanized farms. Tom is angry at their refusal to listen to him, but after some high-level diplomats and businessmen treat him to luxury trips to Paris, Indonesia, and India, he forgets all about his good ideas for Cambodia.

Louis Krupitzyn

Louis Krupitzyn is the Russian ambassador to Sarkhan. Unlike his American counterpart, Ambassador Sears, Krupitzyn is well prepared for his position. He began his diplomatic career in 1935 and has been stationed in the United States and China. When he becomes ambassador to Sarkhan he learns the language, immerses himself in the local culture, and attends lectures on Buddhist religion and practice. He outwits the Americans when he tricks the Sarkhanese into believing that a shipment of U.S. rice, sent to relieve a famine, in fact came from Russia.


Jeepo is a Sarkhanese man who has a talent for working with machinery. He gets on well with Homer Atkins, and the two of them develop a water pump for raising water economically and efficiently. They try various versions of the pump, and it is Jeepo who points out their shortcomings to Atkins. He is not intimidated by working with an American, and the two men argue as equals. It is Jeepo who comes up with the final version of the water pump, solving a problem that had eluded Atkins.

Ruth Jyoti

Ruth Jyoti, editor and publisher of one of the best independent newspapers in Southeast Asia, is invited to the United States, and at a dinner for the press in San Francisco she gives a talk on how and why Americans in Asia are not effective.

Marie MacIntosh

Marie MacIntosh, a twenty-eight-year-old American, is impressed by a talk given by Joe Bing and applies for a position in government service in Sarkhan. She writes back to her friends about her new, rather luxurious and easy life.

Ambassador Gilbert MacWhite

Gilbert MacWhite replaces Louis Sears as U.S. ambassador to Sarkhan in 1954. Quite unlike his predecessor, MacWhite is a professional foreign service officer, and he has a long diplomatic career already behind him, even though he is only in his mid-forties. MacWhite has read the communist writings of Karl Marx and Lenin and is a recognized expert on Soviet theory and practice. He learns Sarkhanese and reads books about Sarkhanese history and politics. He is courageous, efficient, and imaginative, and has an ability to recognize and learn from his mistakes, an ability his predecessor conspicuously lacked. He travels extensively in Southeast Asia because he is determined to learn everything he can about how to defeat communism. He has good judgment and invites some of the best American talent, such as Homer Atkins and Colonel Hillandale, to visit Sarkhan and put their ideas into practice. When he is well established in his job, he writes to the U.S. secretary of state asking permission to make some urgent and practical changes in the U.S. diplomatic mission to Sarkhan. He is turned down, and as a result he resigns as ambassador.

Bob Maile

Bob Maile is an official in the United States Information Service (USIS) stationed in Setkya, a city in Southeast Asia. According to Ruth Jyoti, Maile has done more than anyone else to raise U.S. prestige in the area. He mixes easily with the local people and everyone trusts him. He even sends his children to an Asian school, which is very unusual for an American.

Major Monet

Major Monet is a French soldier in Hanoi, in charge of a company of French foreign legion. He comes from a long line of soldiers in his family, and he understands the art of war, at least in its traditional form. But his legionnaires keep losing their skirmishes with the communists. It is left to Major Wolchek to point out to Monet that he needs to study the works of Mao Tse-tung, since Mao describes a new kind of warfare. As a proud Frenchman, Monet is reluctant at first, but he later realizes the value in Wolchek's advice.

Prince Ngong

Prince Ngong is a distinguished Sarkhanese poet and drama critic and member of the government. He tells the Sarkhanese cabinet that they must do something to remedy the offense that Ambassador Sears has taken from a hostile cartoon in one of the local newspapers.

Li Pang

Li Pang, a businessman and soldier, is a representative of Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese nationalist leader. He is also an old friend of Ambassador MacWhite. While visiting MacWhite, Li Pang interrogates Donald, the old Chinese servant, and finds that he has been passing on information to the communists.


Roger is one of the two old Chinese servants at the U.S. Embassy in Sarkhan.

Ambassador Louis Sears

Louis Sears is the U.S. ambassador to Sarkhan. Known as “Lucky” because of the good fortune he enjoyed during his long political career, he is a former U.S. senator. He is only in Sarkhan for two years while he waits for a vacancy to arise for a federal judgeship. While he is ambassador, Sears does not bother to learn the Sarkhanese language, nor does he make any attempt to mingle with the Sarkhanese people, so he has little idea of what is really going on in the country. He spends too much of his time attending cocktail parties and talking to other diplomats. Sears is presented as an example of all that is wrong with U.S. diplomacy in Southeast Asia. The Russians regard him as so incompetent that they are eager for him to remain in his position, since his presence helps them so much. Sears eventually gets his judgeship and is replaced as ambassador by Gilbert MacWhite.

U Maung Swe

U Maung Swe is the best known journalist in Burma. In 1954, at dinner in honor of Ambassador MacWhite, U Maung Swe explains in detail why U.S. prestige in Southeast Asia is low.

George Swift

George Swift is the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Sarkhan. He is responsible for sabotaging Colonel Hillandale's appointment to read the palm of the king of Sarkhan. Hillandale is so angry he punches him, and Ambassador MacWhite, sensing that Swift has no understanding of the local culture, arranges for him to be transferred.

Major James Wolchek

Major James Wolchek, whose nickname is “Tex” because he comes from Texas, is a combat veteran of World War II and the Korean War. He was wounded in both wars. In 1954, he is assigned as a foreign observer to the French foreign legion in Hanoi, Vietnam, where he meets Major Monet. After the French suffer a series of defeats at the hands of the communists, Tex realizes that their failure results from their fighting war by the old rules, while the communists follow the new rules of war written by Mao Tse-tung. Tex explains Mao's battle tactics, and, as a result, Monet and the legionnaires finally win an encounter with the communists, during which Tex is slightly wounded.

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