The Quiet American

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Alden Pyle Character Analysis

Alden Pyle is young, highly idealistic, and romantic—the titular quiet American. A professor’s son, Pyle has led a gentle, intellectual life in Boston and at Harvard University, where he first encounters the writings of his intellectual hero, York Harding. Inspire to enact sweeping political change abroad, he joins the American Secret Service and travels to Vietnam. Pyle shows himself to be capable of immense honor and bravery—once saving Fowler’s life by carrying him away from an explosion—as well as enormous callousness and brutality. Pyle’s faith in his ideals—the mysterious Third Force that Harding celebrates—is so great that he can justify any action—even the murder of babies—if he believes that it will lead to the realization of his political goals. Pyle is often condescending to individual people, since he believes that ideas are more important than lives. At one point, he argues that the Vietnamese are like children, and must be brought into “adulthood” with violence and revolution. As Pyle competes with Fowler for the affections of Phuong Hei, Fowler discovers that Pyle is conspiring with General Thé to blow up buildings throughout Saigon. This discovery, along with Fowler’s jealousy over Pyle’s relationship with Phuong, leads Fowler to play an important part in Pyle’s death.

Alden Pyle Quotes in The Quiet American

The The Quiet American quotes below are all either spoken by Alden Pyle or refer to Alden Pyle . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Quiet American published in 2004.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

Pyle was very earnest and I had suffered from his lectures on the Far East, which he had known for as many months as I had years. Democracy was another subject of his—he had pronounced and aggravating views on what the United States was doing for the world. Phuong on the other hand was wonderfully ignorant; if Hitler had come into the conversation she would have interrupted to ask who he was. The explanation would be all the more difficult because she had never met a German or a Pole and had only the vaguest knowledge of European geography, though about Princess Margaret of course she knew more than I. I heard her put a tray down on the end of the bed.

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle , Phuong Hei
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, we're introduced to the dynamic between the three central characters of the novel, Fowler, Pyle, and Phuong. Fowler is a wise, experienced British journalist--world-weary, a heavy drinker, and, it's been suggested, a self-portrait of Greene himself. Pyle, by contrast, is young, optimistic, and energetic. He's been reading pseudo-Marxist literature, which has convinced him to use violence to install a new form of government in Vietnam, where the novel is set. Greene conveys the imbalance between Pyle and Fowler with the phrase "As many months as I had years." The message is clear: Pyle is young and naive, while Fowler is older and more realistic in his thinking.

But what about Phuong? Phuong is young and beautiful, but she's portrayed as hopelessly naive--she doesn't even know who Hitler is. One could say that Phuong is Greene's portrait of Vietnam itself: beautiful but basically ignorant of the outside world, and therefore in need of domination (in every sense of the word) from a Western figure like Fowler or Pyle. (Greene's account of Phuong has been criticized for its sexism--see Themes for more details.)

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I walked back with Phuong towards my flat. I was no longer on my dignity. Death takes away vanity—even the vanity of the cuckold who mustn’t show his pain.

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle , Phuong Hei
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Fowler contemplates the death of Alden Pyle, the young, optimistic American agent in Vietnam whom Fowler himself has had a hand in killing. The passage is illuminating because it tell us, first, that Alden and Fowler were competing for the same woman, Phuong, and second, that Pyle has died very recently.

Notice that Greene portrays Fowler as being obsessed with his appearance--he's trying, desperately, to hide his pain at Pyle's death. Furthermore, it's important to notice that Fowler seems to feel some traces of sympathy for Pyle, even though it's implied that he and Pyle were fighting over Phuong. There's an unwritten "code" of honor and respect between men in Greene's books. Fowler is no exception to the code--when Pyle is dead, he shows respect and remorse, whatever he thought of Pyle personally.

That night I woke from one of those short deep opium sleeps, ten minutes long, that seem a whole night’s rest, and found my hand where it had always lain at night, between her legs. She was asleep and I could hardly hear her breathing. Once again after so many months I was not alone, and yet I thought suddenly with anger, remembering Vigot and his eye-shade in the police station and the quiet corridors of the Legation with no one about and the soft hairless skin under my hand, “Am I the only one who really cared for Pyle?”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle , Phuong Hei
Related Symbols: Alcohol and Opium
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final part of the first chapter of the novel, Greene sets up the premise of the book: Fowler is remembering his experiences with Pyle, the mysterious American agent with whom Fowler had a conflicted relationship. It is Fowler's duty (as a journalist, as an older man, as a writer) to record Pyle's life--nobody else is going to do it, after all.

The passage is also strange in the way that it suggests a close relationship between Fowler and Pyle. Fowler seems almost surprised to find himself caring so deeply for Pyle, a man with whom he competed frequently. And Fowler's attitude toward Pyle exemplifies the "Greene code" of masculine behavior: there's a grudging respect between the men in Greene's novels, even if they hate one another. There's also a paternal element in Fowler's attitude toward Pyle--he thinks of himself as a reluctant father-figure to Pyle (perhaps paralleling the way that England could be considered a "father" to the United States, the countries from which the two men respectively come).

Part 1, Chapter 2, Section 1 Quotes

I liked his loyalty to Harding—whoever Harding was. It was a change from the denigrations of the Pressmen and their immature cynicism. I said, “Have another bottle of beer and I’ll try to give you an idea of things.”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle , York Harding
Related Symbols: The Role of the West
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage jumps back in time to when Fowler and Pyle first meet, and Fowler gets a sense for Alden Pyle's intellectual curiosity. Pyle is an impressionable reader--as we'll see later on, his favorite author is Harding, an intellectual who inspires him to use violence to control the people of Vietnam. At first, Fowler is intrigued by the mere fact that Pyle is reading--he considers Pyle's behavior a welcome contrast from the usual boorishness and cynicism Fowler notices among many foreigners in Vietnam.

It's worth noting that Fowler's admiration for Pyle has a paternal flavor--Fowler seems to see something of his younger self in Pyle (it's literature, after all, that links Fowler and Pyle together: Fowler is a writer and Pyle is a reader). Greene will revisit the paternal bond between Fowler and Pyle (who's young enough to be Fowler's son) many times.

Part 1, Chapter 3, Section 1 Quotes

“Do you think I’d really go near their stinking highway? Stephen Crane could describe a war without seeing one. Why shouldn’t I? Its only a damned colonial war anyway. Get me another drink. And then let’s go and find a girl. You’ve got a piece of tail. I want a piece of tail too.”

Related Characters: Bill Granger (speaker), Thomas Fowler , Alden Pyle , Phuong Hei
Related Symbols: Alcohol and Opium
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we meet Bill Granger, an obnoxious journalist with whom Fowler is totally disgusted. Granger is drunk and annoying; moreover, he's totally dismissive of the Vietnamese people, despite the fact that, like Fowler, he's been flown to Vietnam to report on the war. Granger is so unprincipled that he makes up the details of a recent news story he's written on the Vietnam War (which is still in its early stages when the novel takes place).

Granger is an important character in the novel, because he helps us understand Fowler's code of behavior more clearly. Granger and Fowler aren't really so different--they're both drinkers, both writers, and both willing to bend the truth at times. But where Granger thinks of his writing as a mere "racket," good for making money, Fowler thinks of his writing as an almost sacred business--he'd never think of falsifying a story. Furthermore, Fowler is possessed of more respect for Vietnam itself than Granger is--Fowler has come to love a Vietnamese woman, while Granger seems interested in having sex with Vietnamese women, but nothing more.

Part 1, Chapter 3, Section 2 Quotes

“Home?” I said and laughed, and Pyle looked at me as though I were another Granger. Suddenly I saw myself as he saw me, a man of middle age, with eyes a little bloodshot, beginning to put on weight, ungraceful in love, less noisy than Granger perhaps but more cynical, less innocent, and I saw Phuong for a moment as I had seen her first, dancing past my table at the Grand Monde in a white ball-dress, eighteen years old, watched by an elder sister who had been determined on a good European marriage. An American had bought a ticket and asked her for a dance: he was a little drunk—not harmfully, and I suppose he was new to the country and thought the hostesses of the Grand Monde were whores. He held her much too close as they went round the floor the first time, and then suddenly there she was, going back to sit with her sister, and he was left, stranded and lost among the dancers, not knowing what had happened or why. And the girl whose name I didn’t know sat quietly there, occasionally sipping her orange juice, owning herself completely.

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle , Phuong Hei , Bill Granger
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the love triangle between Pyle, Fowler, and Phuong first becomes clear. Somehow, the mere presence of Pyle is enough to make Fowler feel old and ugly--Pyle is so young and handsome that Fowler becomes deeply conscious of his drunkenness, his weight, etc. (he even compares himself to Granger, a man he despises).

The passage sets up the basic dynamic between Pyle and Fowler. As Greene himself acknowledged, Pyle and Fowler could be considered embodiments of their respective countries: as Greene sees it, Great Britain is a lot like Fowler--older and more experienced than the U.S., and possessed of a code of honor that an American could never quite understand--even though America is more successful in the present (as Pyle eventually wins over Phuong).

This passage also contains a remarkably poignant description of how Fowler first met Phuong and fell in love with her. Throughout the book Phuong is a rather problematic and sometimes dehumanized character, and Fowler doesn't always treat her well, but here it's suggested that he was immediately attracted to her precisely because of her individuality and personhood: she "owned herself completely."

Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 2 Quotes

“Of course,” he said without conviction, “she may choose to stay with you.”
“What would you do then?”
“I’d apply for a transfer.”
“Why don’t you just go away, Pyle, without causing trouble?”
“It wouldn’t be fair to her, Thomas,” he said quite seriously. I never knew a man who had better motives…

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle (speaker), Phuong Hei
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the sexual rivalry between Fowler and Pyle comes to its peak. Fowler and Pyle acknowledge that they both love Phuong, and they also decide that they should let Phuong choose between the two of them. To Fowler's amazement, Pyle is being completely principled in his competition--he even believes that abandoning Vietnam would be "unfair" to Phuong. Pyle seems to think of his relationship with Phuong as being completely magnamimous--he loves Phuong because he wants to help her. (In this way, Pyle's relationship with Phuong may be emblematic of the rather deluded American relationship with Vietnam itself.)

Greene draws a stark contrast between Fowler--old, cynical, and devious--and Pyle--who's young and virtuous, but also causes greater harm through his good intentions.

Part 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

Pyle said, “I think I ought to put all my cards on the table. I’m not rich. But when my father dies I’ll have about fifty thousand dollars. I’m in good health—I’ve got a medical certificate only two months old, and I can let her know my blood-group.”
“I don’t know how to translate that. What’s it for ?”
“Well, to make certain we can have children together.” “Is that how you make love in America—figures of income and blood-group?”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle (speaker), Phuong Hei
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

Pyle and Fowler have confronted Phuong, asking her, point-blank, to choose between them. Fowler is put in the odd position of having to translate his romantic rival's statements to Phuong. Here, for instance, Pyle tells Fowler to communicate to Phuong that Pyle has some money and is in good health. Fowler can't help but mock Pyle for his childishness in wooing Phuong--it's certainly a little odd and not very romantic that Pyle is telling Phuong his blood-type as a way of winning her over.

The passage uses comedy to convey the differences between Pyle and Fowler. Pyle may be younger and handsomer than Fowler, but he's a little clueless about how to go about wooing a woman. Fowler, on the other hand, is a little old for Phuong, but she's attracted to his experience and insight. As we should expect by now, Fowler "nationalizes" his criticism of Pyle, suggesting that Pyle's cluelessness in wooing Phuong is representative of America's cluelessness in other similar departments.

Part 2, Chapter 2, Section 3 Quotes

“I’ve no reason to believe in a God. Do you?” “Yes. I’m a Unitarian.”
“How many hundred million Gods do people believe in? Why, even a Roman Catholic believes in quite a different God when he’s scared or happy or hungry.”
“Maybe, if there is a God, he’d be so vast he’d look different to everyone.”
“Like the great Buddha in Bangkok,” I said. “You can’t see all of him at once. Anyway he keeps still.”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle (speaker)
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Pyle and Fowler stay up late at night, frightened for their lives. The two men are stationed in a remote fort, and know that they could be found and captured. To pass the time, Fowler asks Pyle about God, and Pyle claims to believe in God. Notice that Pyle follows Unitarianism--often considered one of the more progressive, free-spirited sects of Christianity--while Fowler, who is an atheist, mentions Roman Catholicism--often considered one of the more traditional, austere sects of Christianity, and a kind of ancient cultural signifier (appropriate for the "Old-World" Fowler.

The passage is important because it suggests some common ground between Pyle and Fowler, who seem like polar opposites. Even if Fowler doesn't exactly believe in God, he seems to obey some code of personal behavior; he believes in principles like honor and loyalty that suggest a kind of religiosity.

“That’s just it,” Pyle said. “You shouldn’t be against York, you should be against the French. Their colonialism.”
“Isms and ocracies. Give me facts. A rubber planter beats his laborer—all right, I’m against him. He hasn’t been instructed to do it by the Minister of the Colonies. In France I expect he’d beat his wife. I’ve seen a priest, so poor he hasn’t a change of trousers, working fifteen hours a day from hut to hut in a cholera epidemic, eating nothing but rice and salt fish, saying his Mass with an old cup—a wooden platter. I don’t believe in God and yet I’m for that priest. Why don’t you call that colonialism?

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle (speaker)
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Pyle and Fowler debate the role of colonialism in Vietnam. Pyle takes the position that the Vietnamese people must be compelled to adopt their own form of government, one that is neither Western and democratic nor Communist. Pyle's philosophy is a strange beast, and seemingly nonsensical in many ways: he rails against colonialism, and yet he's an American agent stationed in a foreign country, there to manipulate it to American interests.

Even if it's difficult to understand what, exactly, Pyle believes in, it's important to notice the way he favors ideology over the hard facts. Pyle is a loft, idealistic philosopher, willing to think in terms of big words like "colonialism" and "democracy." Fowler, the experienced journalist, believes in individual facts and details. As a result, he has a much harder time than Pyle believing that it's justifiable to sacrifice human lives for the good of a cause. Pyle looks at a priest and automatically concludes that he's an agent of imperialism and evil; Fowler, on the other hand, would examine the details of the same priest's life and see much to praise.

“But she loves you, doesn’t she?”

“Not like that. It isn’t in their nature. You’ll find that out. It’s a cliché to call them children— but there’s one thing which is childish. They love you in return for kindness, security, the presents you give them—they hate you for a blow or an injustice. They don’t know what it’s like—just walking into a room and loving a stranger. For an aging man, Pyle, it’s very secure—she won’t run away from home so long as the home is happy.” I hadn’t meant to hurt him. I only realized I had done it when he said with muffled anger, “She might prefer greater security or more kindness.”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle (speaker), Phuong Hei
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Fowler tells Pyle what he thinks of Phuong. Fowler's words are harsh, bitter, and rather racist--he claims that he doesn't really think of Phuong as an adult at all; rather, he considers her a child. It's interesting to note that Fowler speaks in terms of "them," not "she." Although the supposed subject of his speech is Phuong, he's really talking about Vietnam and Vietnamese people themselves. This is typical of racist ideas--seeing one individual as a representative of his or her race, and making vast generalizations based on personal experience--but it also reinforces the symbolic, allegorical structure of the novel.

Fowler realizes too late that his words are harsh--he genuinely didn't realize that Pyle would be so offended by his callous attitude toward Phuong. Fowler's surprise is a sign that he's grown so accustomed to his own cynicism and callousness that he can barely remember a time when he acted any other way. Pyle, who's still young and romantic, loves Phuong (albeit in his own idealistic and condescending way) and believes that Phuong loves him in return.

Part 2, Chapter 2, Section 4 Quotes

“You saved my life there,” I said, and Pyle cleared his throat for the conventional response,
“So that I could die here. I prefer dry land.”
“Better not talk,” Pyle said as though to an invalid.
“Who the hell asked you to save my life? I came east to be killed. It’s like your damned impertinence . . .” I staggered in the mud and Pyle hoisted my arm around his shoulder. “Ease it off,” he said.

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle (speaker)
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Pyle has saved Fowler's life in the Vietnamese wilderness. Pyle could have left Fowler for dead; Pyle could even have hurt Fowler as revenge for stealing Phuong away. Instead, Pyle treats Fowler mercifully, getting him to a hospital as soon as possible. Fowler doesn't want to be saved--not by Pyle, and not by anyone else. He's so used to embracing death in his journalism and his drinking that he seems totally prepared to die.

The passage makes it clear that Fowler is every bit as callous and cynical as he claims to be. Fowler really would prefer dying to being in Pyle's debt--and not just because Pyle is his romantic rival. Fowler hates the idea of owing anyone a debt--he prefers the individualized machismo of embracing death and tragedy. Now that Fowler owes Pyle his life, however, there's a strong bond of honor and loyalty between the two men, much to Fowler's annoyance.

Part 2, Chapter 3, Section 3 Quotes

“Yes. I wish you hadn’t written it.”
“Why?”
“Because it was a pack of lies. I trusted you, Thomas.”
“You shouldn’t trust anyone when there’s a woman in the case.”
“Then you needn’t trust me after this. I’ll come sneaking up here when you go out, I’ll write letters in typewritten envelopes. Maybe I’m growing up, Thomas.” But there were tears in his voice, and he looked younger than he had ever done. “Couldn’t you have won without lying?”
“No. This is European duplicity, Pyle. We have to make up for our lack of supplies.”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle (speaker), Phuong Hei
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Pyle confronts Fowler for his deceptions--he's tricked Pyle into thinking that he's going to stay in Vietnam to be with Phuong, when in fact he's going back to England presently. Pyle is genuinely shocked that Fowler would tell him a lie--Pyle is so open and honest that he can't conceive of a grown man with "lower" morals than his own.

Once again, Fowler frames the difference between himself and Pyle in nationalistic terms: Pyle is a representative American, while Fowler is a classic Englishman. Although England is an older, weaker country, it's capable of using its experience and moral deviousness against America--by the same token, Fowler has outmaneuvered Pyle. (The irony of the passage is that Pyle is actually capable of great deviousness--he conspires to murder innocent civilians in Vietnam, as his philosophical beliefs compel him to sacrifice his own strong moral values.)

Part 3, Chapter 2, Section 1 Quotes

“We are the old colonial peoples, Pyle, but we’ve learnt a bit of reality, we’ve learned not to play with matches. This Third Force—it comes out of a book, that’s all. General Thé’s only a bandit with a few thousand men: he’s not a national democracy.” It was as if he had been staring at me through a letter-box to see who was there and now, letting the flap fall, had shut out the unwelcome intruder. His eyes were out of sight. “I don’t know what you mean, Thomas.” “Those bicycle bombs. They were a good joke, even though one man did lose a foot. But, Pyle, you can’t trust men like Thé. They aren’t going to save the East from Communism. We know their kind.”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle (speaker), General Thé
Related Symbols: The Role of the West
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Fowler tries to talk Pyle out of his political plottings. Fowler knows that Pyle has been working on behalf of General Thé, a military strongman in Vietnam. Although Pyle barely knows Thé, he thinks of him as a symbol of everything his favorite book, The Role of the West, argues for. Pyle thinks that by helping the General, he’ll be able to install a new, virtuous form of self-government in Vietnam, ensuring peace and prosperity. As Fowler points out, however, Pyle has made a huge mistake in putting his faith in Thé. Even if The Role of the West is correct about the Third World, Pyle is wrong to think that Thé (in reality just a petty tyrant hungry for power) will be the one to change things in Vietnam.

As Fowler strongly implies, Pyle is a lofty idealist who simply doesn’t understand how people work. Pyle is so eager to believe in abstract ideals that he barely gives any thought to the way such ideals are realized. As a result, he’s willing to work for Thé, setting off bombs and hurting innocent people. Fowler, for all his supposed stoicism and indifference, can’t help but try to dissuade Pyle.

Part 4, Chapter 1 Quotes

“No. I’m not so stupid. One doesn’t take one’s enemy’s book as a souvenir. There it is on your shelf. The Rôle of the West. Who is this York Harding?” “He’s the man you are looking for, Vigot. He killed Pyle—at long range.”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Vigot (speaker), Alden Pyle , York Harding
Related Symbols: The Role of the West
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

After the death of Alden Pyle, Fowler crosses paths with Vigot, the police inspector who’s been tasked with investigating Pyle’s death. Vigot notices a copy of The Role of the West, Pyle’s favorite book, in Fowler’s home. When he asks Fowler about the book, Fowler claims that it was York Harding (the author) who truly killed Pyle.

Fowler’s remarks are both totally self-serving and totally accurate. Fowler is himself responsible for Pyle’s death—terrified by Pyle’s politics and jealous of his romantic success with Phuong, Fowler allowed Pyle to be murdered. By blaming Harding for Pyle’s death, Fowler is cynically trying to absolve himself of guilt. But in another sense, Fowler is right to blame Harding. Pyle lived his adult life according to a set of lofty, unrealistic ideals. In so doing, he entered into a world of violence and bloodshed, in which he wasn’t equipped to last very long--and in which he did great harm.

Part 4, Chapter 3 Quotes

I said to Phuong, “Do you miss him much?”
“Who?”
“Pyle.” Strange how even now, even to her, it was impossible to use his first name. “Can I go, please? My sister will be so excited.”
“You spoke his name once in your sleep.”
“I never remember my dreams.”
“There was so much you could have done together. He was young.”
“You are not old.”
“The skyscrapers. The Empire State Building.”
She said with a small hesitation, “I want to see the Cheddar Gorge.” “It isn’t the Grand Canyon.” I pulled her down on to the bed. “I’m sorry, Phuong.”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Phuong Hei (speaker), Alden Pyle
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Fowler talks to Phuong about Pyle, who’s been killed recently. Fowler, who was partly responsible for Pyle’s death, asks Phuong if she misses Pyle, and Phuong claims that she barely thinks about Pyle at all. Fowler is suspicious of Phuong, and even when she tells him she’s eager to go to England with him, he still feels strangely inadequate.

Fowler is haunted by Pyle’s death. It’s not clear if Phuong has truly forgotten Pyle as she claims, or if she’s secretly missing him (it’s certainly possible that Phuong, as a rather cynical opportunist, has merely latched on to whomever will take her out of Vietnam). In either case, though, it’s clear that Fowler continues to fear that Phuong still loves Pyle. And even though Pyle is dead, and Fowler feared that he was the only one who "cared," Pyle's memory still lives on strongly in Fowler's consciousness.

I thought of the first day and Pyle sitting beside me at the Continental, with his eye on the soda-fountain across the way. Everything had gone right with me since he had died, but how I wished there existed someone to whom I could say that I was sorry.

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Alden Pyle
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, things seem to be looking up for Fowler. His wife has granted him a divorce, he’s living with Phuong, etc. And yet Fowler is still haunted by Pyle’s death, in which Fowler himself had a hand. In a strange way, Fowler’s guilt suggests that he valued and respected Pyle—for all their differences and rivalries, they were still friends.

The passage is crucial to the end of the novel because it shows how someone like Fowler—someone who’s been shown to be sometimes devious and untrustworthy, and who doesn’t seem to believe in God or a set of rigid morals—deals with guilt. Fowler seems to wish that he could embrace his Catholic faith—he wishes that he could confess his sins and transcend them. Instead, Fowler feels that he’s above all redemption—he’s so thoroughly guilty that Pyle’s death will haunt him forever and ever. The almost childish simplicity of Fowler’s wish—that he could say, “I’m sorry”—reinforces his isolation and moral confusion—as the novel ends, he’s truly, profoundly alone.

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Alden Pyle Character Timeline in The Quiet American

The timeline below shows where the character Alden Pyle appears in The Quiet American. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
...is in his apartment in 1950s Saigon, waiting for a younger American man named Alden Pyle, who is two hours late. It is odd for Pyle, a meticulous and punctual man,... (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
...up to Fowler’s apartment. Phuong speaks in simple French, noticing that Fowler seems troubled by Pyle’s absence. Phuong says Pyle is very fond of Fowler, but Fowler responds that she should... (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
Phuong tries to comfort Fowler by saying Pyle will be there soon. Fowler wonders what Pyle and Phuong talk about together and remembers... (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
...lover who smoked opium would always return, “even from France.” Fowler suggests Phuong should get Pyle to start smoking. Smoking opium also may damage sexual capacity, but according to Fowler, a... (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
...smokes a second pipe of opium and tells Phuong that when she left him for Pyle, he fell back into heavy opium use. Fowler suggests Phuong should not live with Pyle... (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
There is a knock at the door, but it is not Pyle. It is a Vietnamese policeman, who tells Fowler in heavily accented French that he is... (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
...man whom Fowler has met before. Vigot asks Phuong how long she has lived with Pyle and says the situation is serious. Vigot says Fowler seems like Pyle’s friend, and Fowler... (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Fowler describes Pyle as a “quiet American” employed by the Economic Aid Mission. Fowler does not tell Vigot... (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Suspicious of Fowler, Vigot asks him how he knew Pyle was dead. Fowler claims he’s not guilty of murdering Pyle, but the narration suggests that... (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Vigot suggests Pyle did a lot of harm, but is unclear about why. Fowler sarcastically retorts, “God save... (full context)
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
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...with the indignity of walking. Fowler thinks about sending a story to his paper about Pyle’s death, but knows he would not be able to reveal the true nature of Pyle’s... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2, Section 1
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Fowler’s narration flashes back to the first day Fowler met Pyle. Fowler had been spending too much time with his American colleagues in the Press. He... (full context)
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In the bar in Saigon on that first day Fowler and Pyle met, Pyle speaks highly of York Harding, a political theorist whom Fowler has never heard... (full context)
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At the bar, Fowler educates Pyle on the current situation in Vietnam, as he has done for many others. Most of... (full context)
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Provoked by the idea of the Caodaists fighting against both sides, Pyle tells Fowler that York Harding wrote that the East needs a “Third Force,” but does... (full context)
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Leaving Pyle, Fowler walks down the rue Catinat to his apartment and thinks about how Vietnam has... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2, Section 2
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Flashing forward to the morning after Phuong stayed with Fowler after Pyle’s death, the two have a casual morning tea and breakfast, much like they did before... (full context)
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Inside Pyle’s apartment, Fowler runs into Vigot washing his hands in Pyle’s bathroom, which Fowler quietly finds... (full context)
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Vigot helps Fowler get Phuong’s box of belongings from under Pyle’s bed. Pyle’s black dog is missing. Fowler teases Vigot that he can analyze the earth... (full context)
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Vigot reveals that he has already submitted a report that said the Communists killed Pyle as the beginning of a campaign against American aid, but Vigot still wants Fowler to... (full context)
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As Fowler leaves Pyle’s apartment, he runs into the American Economic Attaché. The Attaché has trouble directing his driver,... (full context)
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The Attaché asks Fowler if he knows who killed Pyle and why. Fowler feels sudden anger toward the American forces in Vietnam, and blurts out... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3, Section 1
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The narration flashes back to the first time Pyle met Phuong, an early evening at the Continental Hotel. Fowler sits with Phuong at a... (full context)
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...the fare and then brings the unknown drunken man, whom Granger nicknames “Mick,” over to Pyle’s table where Pyle, Fowler, Phuong, and the Attaché are sitting. Granger hits on Phuong and... (full context)
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...rumors that the Vietminh have burned down the Phat Diem Cathedral. This piques Fowler’s interest. Pyle hopes the Catholics would be opposed to Communism, but Fowler reveals that to be a... (full context)
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Pyle, Granger, Fowler, and Phuong take trishaws to the Chalet and brothel, The House of the... (full context)
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When they arrive, Pyle and Granger have already entered the brothel. Fowler feels an instinct to protect Pyle. He... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3, Section 2
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In the Chalet, Phuong, Fowler and Pyle sit near the dance floor. The orchestra plays an out-of-date Parisian song. Fowler observes two... (full context)
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Pyle asks Phuong (in his bad French) to dance. They do, and Pyle is a bad... (full context)
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Phuong’s sister, Miss Hei, enters the Chalet while Pyle and Phuong are dancing. She joins Fowler at the table. Fowler explains that Pyle is... (full context)
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Pyle and Phuong return to the table after their second dance. Pyle speaks about Phuong as... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 1
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Chapter 4 begins a few days after Fowler, Phuong, and Pyle’s night of dinner and dancing at the Chalet. Fowler has flown to Phat Diem to... (full context)
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...reaches for the gun the officers have provided him. He is then surprised to find Pyle standing before him, wearing a helmet. Pyle explains than “somebody” lent him the helmet—Fowler points... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 2
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Fowler has just encountered Pyle, who’s staying with him in the military base. Pyle explains how he came to be... (full context)
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Pyle tries to speak frankly with Fowler—he asks Fowler for his first name, which is Thomas.... (full context)
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As Pyle and Fowler lie in bed, they hear the sounds of bombs in the distance. Pyle... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 5
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...military base, Fowler returns to Saigon—he was gone much longer than he’d expected to be. Pyle had left the base the morning after he arrived. Pyle is incapable of causing any... (full context)
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Fowler learns that Pyle left the military base by convincing a young officer to take him back to the... (full context)
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...it—otherwise, it’ll be censored. But by leaving Vietnam, Fowler will in essence be surrendering to Pyle. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
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...have passed since the events of the previous chapter: Fowler is back in Saigon, and Pyle has “invited himself” for a drink. Fowler sits in his home with Phuong, who has... (full context)
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Fowler hears a knock, and finds Pyle waiting at his door, accompanied by a dog, whose name is Duke. Fowler invites Pyle... (full context)
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Fowler asks Pyle if he’ll be “sensible” and mentally stable if Phuong were to die, and Pyle replies... (full context)
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After a long pause, Fowler asks Phuong if she’s going to leave him for Pyle. He explains that he’ll be unable to marry Phuong, but that Pyle will gladly marry... (full context)
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As Pyle and Fowler argue, Phuong suddenly says, “No.” Pyle, surprised, asks Phuong, in clumsy French, if... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2, Section 1
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After he leaves the Pope’s deputy, Fowler notices Pyle, whom he’s run into several times since arriving in Tanyin. Pyle is always friendly to... (full context)
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...little disgust, the garish combination of Christian, Buddhist, and Confucian imagery. When he returns to Pyle, he is still talking to the commandant. Fowler offers to give Pyle a lift back... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2, Section 2
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Pyle and Fowler are driving away from the Caodaist festival. In the car, Pyle raises the... (full context)
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Fowler and Pyle drive toward a French fortress, using the remaining gas in Fowler’s car. They climb out... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2, Section 3
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...they have no gasoline, but that he can spend the night there. Fowler calls for Pyle, who climbs over the wall of the fort. When he’s climbed inside, Pyle notices that... (full context)
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Pyle and Fowler spend the night at the French fort. Fowler, pointing to the two soldiers... (full context)
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As Pyle and Fowler talk, they hear shouts and gunshots from outside the fort. The two soldiers... (full context)
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The time drags on, very slowly. Pyle confesses to Fowler that he can’t stop thinking about Phuong. Fowler thinks that Pyle is... (full context)
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As Pyle and Fowler talk, a voice suddenly speaks from a megaphone outside the fort. Fowler, noticing... (full context)
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Fowler and Pyle decide to sneak away from the fort by climbing down the ladder under the cover... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2, Section 4
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Pyle and Fowler have just escaped from a fort, and Fowler has been slightly injured in... (full context)
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Pyle carries Fowler away from the fort. Fowler criticizes Pyle for his “schoolboy heroics,” and tells... (full context)
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...side of the road for many hours. At one point, he tries to run after Pyle, but finds that he’s in too much pain. Eventually, he becomes conscious of a flashlight... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3, Section 1
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...rue Catinat, a street of Saigon. It has been a few days since he and Pyle escaped the fort. In advance of his return, Fowler has sent Phuong a telegram explaining... (full context)
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...to buy scarves and clothes. As Fowler waits outside a store for Phuong, he writes Pyle a letter. In it, he thanks Pyle for saving his life—though he refers to the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3, Section 2
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...a warehouse outside of the city. He also asks Fowler how much he knows about Pyle—Fowler replies that he knows that Pyle works for “Economic Mission,” and not much else. Dominguez... (full context)
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...is covered in a fine white powder. Mr. Heng explains to Fowler that he’s seen Pyle in touch with General Thé. Heng adds that he and Chou have been experimenting with... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3, Section 3
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Fowler, having just spoken with Heng and Chou, thinks about Pyle—he hasn’t seen him since Pyle saved his life. He’s irritated with himself for being so... (full context)
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...while Fowler is sleeping, he awakes to hear a knocking at his door. It is Pyle, trying to get inside. Fowler tries to ignore Pyle, but ultimately he gets up and... (full context)
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Pyle tearfully accuses Fowler of manipulating him, along with Phuong, for his own selfish needs. Fowler... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1, Section 1
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The third part of The Quiet American opens two weeks after Pyle’s death. Fowler goes to visit Vigot, who’s playing cards and gambling in a local club.... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1, Section 2
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Fowler “jumps back” to describe what happened after the end of Part 2, when Pyle left Fowler’s home. In the weeks afterwards, Fowler would sometimes come home to find Phuong,... (full context)
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A few weeks after last seeing Pyle, Fowler becomes aware of the “incident of the bicycle bombs.” Dominguez, who’s recovered from his... (full context)
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...the “Bicycle Bombs,” in which he blames General Thé for the damage. He thinks that Pyle must have been responsible for the bicycles, and thinks that it’s better for Pyle to... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1, Section 3
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...visiting Mr. Muoi’s warehouse, Fowler goes to the American Legation, and asks to speak with Pyle. He says that he has an appointment with Pyle—a claim that the guards in the... (full context)
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Inside Pyle’s office, Fowler finds Phuong’s sister, who works as Pyle’s typist, and Joe, another American Legation... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1, Section 4
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Shortly after discovering that Phuong has left him for Pyle, Fowler decides to go north of Saigon, where he has friends and associates. He stays... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2, Section 1
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...back to the city. When he returns to his home, he is surprised to find Pyle waiting for him, in the chair where Phuong always used to sit. Pyle explains that... (full context)
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Fowler asks Pyle if he and Phuong are married yet—Pyle says that they’re not, and that he’s trying... (full context)
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Pyle says that he’s glad he and Fowler can talk, and that he still considers Fowler... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2, Section 2
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In the weeks after Fowler’s discussion with Pyle, he looks for a new apartment, without any success. Eventually, he finds a flat on... (full context)
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...finds that his wallet is missing. As Fowler is looking for his wallet, he hears Pyle’s voice—Pyle is trying to move through the crowds as well. Fowler tells Pyle that Phuong... (full context)
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Pyle uses his American Legation badge to move past the police, taking Fowler with him. They... (full context)
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Fowler continues to berate Pyle for his actions. Because Pyle has believed in York Harding and the Third Force, he’s... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 1
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Part Four begins shortly after Pyle’s death. Fowler has given Phuong money to take her sister to the movies—it’s not explained... (full context)
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...meets with Vigot at 10 PM. He insists that he had nothing to do with Pyle’s death, and asks why Vigot thinks he was involved. Vigot says that he doesn’t think... (full context)
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Vigot tells Fowler that Pyle was killed by a “rusty bayonet,”and Vigot can’t imagine that Fowler would use such a... (full context)
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...look at him with a vague suspicion, that he has nothing more to explain about Pyle’s death. Vigot stands to leave. Just before he goes, he points out how odd it... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2, Section 1
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...Mr. Heng. He tells Heng, who understands more English, about the explosion, and insists that Pyle was to blame for killing the people who died. Heng nods calmly, and explains that... (full context)
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In response to Fowler’s protests, Heng nods, and makes another suggestion: Fowler should invite Pyle to dinner at the Vieux Moulin, between 8:30 and 9:30 PM. When Fowler suggests that... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2, Section 2
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Fowler leaves a note at the American Legation, asking Pyle to come to his flat to talk. While he waits for Pyle to receive the... (full context)
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...Fowler if there’s anything for him to do, but Fowler sends Dominguez away. Shortly thereafter, Pyle arrives, accompanied by his dog, Duke. Fowler invites them both inside. (full context)
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Inside Fowler’s flat, Pyle explains that he’s seen General Thé that afternoon. He insists that the people of Vietnam... (full context)
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Pyle and Fowler continue to chat in Fowler’s flat. Pyle mentions that his father is a... (full context)
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Pyle points out that he’s been talking too much—he senses that something strange is happening that... (full context)
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As he talks to Fowler, Pyle accidentally knocks over a glass—he seems nervous. Fowler helps him clean up the mess, and... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2, Section 3
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Having just invited Pyle to dinner, Fowler goes to the Majestic to see a film. On the way, he... (full context)
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...a table for one. Saying this out loud almost makes him admit to himself that Pyle is dead. Inside the restaurant, he sees that Granger is sitting in the back with... (full context)
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As Fowler waits for news of Pyle’s death, Granger approaches him, and asks him to step outside. Fowler obliges—outside, Granger tells Fowler... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 3
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The final chapter begins shortly after Vigot questions Fowler about Pyle’s death. Phuong has returned from the film Fowler sent her to see. Phuong mentions that... (full context)
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...of The Role of the West on his bookshelf. He asks Phuong if she misses Pyle at all, and tells her that she says his name in her dreams sometimes. He... (full context)
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Phuong and Fowler kiss. Fowler thinks: everything has gone right since Pyle’s death. Nevertheless, Fowler wishes there was someone to whom he could say, “I’m sorry.” (full context)