The Quiet American

The Quiet American

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The Quiet American Part 1, Chapter 2, Section 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
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 Phuong left Fowler for Phuong. They do not speak of Pyle except to say that since Phuong is staying with Fowler again, she needs to move some belongings from Pyle’s apartment to Fowler’s. Fowler says he will join her in case the police are there. They then go to Pyle’s apartment, where the police let only Fowler inside because of his press pass.
With each chapter, Greene gives us a little more information about the relationship between Pyle and Fowler. The fact that Phuong and Fowler don’t talk about Pyle at all says a great deal: we can sense that Fowler was far closer to Pyle than he’s letting on here, and the same can be said of Phuong. Here Greene reminds us of the privileges Fowler has as a European reporter.
Themes
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
Inside Pyle’s apartment, Fowler runs into Vigot washing his hands in Pyle’s bathroom, which Fowler quietly finds disrespectful. Vigot explains that Pyle’s car is in the garage without any gas, which may have been drained, which means Pyle either walked or took a trishaw the previous night, when he was murdered. Fowler asks Vigot if he has any hunches about Pyle’s death. Vigot suggests a multitude of general suspects, from the Vietminh to the Vietnamese police to the Caodaists and still others, all of which are purely guesses. Vigot then suggests it was a murder caused by “simply jealousy,” to which Fowler defensively suggests it was the French police that killed him, thus implicating Vigot.
Greene sets up an enticing mystery: we can sense that Fowler had some role in Pyle’s death, but we’re not told exactly what this role was—despite the fact that it’s Fowler who narrates the novel. We can feel him struggling with his guilt and anxiety—emotions which will become more prominent in his behavior as the novel goes on. The suggestion that Fowler killed Pyle over jealousy is dismissed suspiciously quickly, making it in fact seem like a more likely possibility.
Themes
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
Still in the apartment, Fowler says Vigot can rule him out of his investigation and claims he is “not involved,” which he repeats for emphasis. Fowler narrates that not being involved is part of his creed. Fowler prefers the title of “reporter” to “journalist” or “correspondent” because he feels “reporter” suggests someone who simply writes what they see and takes no action.
Here Greene establishes one of the key themes of the novel—lack of involvement in the status quo. As a reporter, Fowler isn’t supposed to be become entangled in the political or military affairs. Nevertheless, it seems that it’s impossible for a reporter to truly be uninvolved—the fact that Fowler settles in with Phuong would seem to prove this.
Themes
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
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 on its paws if it returns, but Vigot responds that he could not perform that kind of detective work with a war on. Fowler looks at Pyle’s bookshelf, mostly filled with York Harding’s books, reports, and other informational texts. Fowler takes one of the Harding books, The Role of the West, for himself.
Vigot reminds us that the Vietnam War makes his investigation into Pyle’s disappearance of secondary importance, and in fact, almost guarantees that the crime will never be solved. Fowler’s decision to take Pyle’s book for himself suggests a strange level of familiarity, and gives the book (and Harding) more significance regarding Pyle’s death.
Themes
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
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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 give him information, as a friend. Fowler tries to shrug it off, and says that the last time he saw Pyle was in the morning, before the “big bang.” This information seems to conflict with Vigot’s report in a way that is damning for Fowler, but before Vigot can question Fowler further, the American Economic Attaché arrives in a car outside.
It’s still not yet clear how Fowler was involved in Pyle’s death, as Greene draws out the mystery even with a first-person narrator. Vigot’s relationship with Fowler is hard to classify—clearly they know each other well, but it’s not clear how antagonistic Vigot is to Fowler. Vigot seems to have a vested interest in solving the case, or at least in indulging his own curiosity.
Themes
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
As Fowler leaves Pyle’s apartment, he runs into the American Economic Attaché. The Attaché has trouble directing his driver, even though the Attaché learned French in Paris for three years. Fowler speaks to the driver in French and tells the Attaché that it is a matter of different accents. Fowler calls the Attaché’s Western accent “the voice of Democracy,” which Fowler says sounds like a York Harding title. The Attaché then expresses his sadness about Pyle’s death and says he knew Pyle’s father, a prominent professor, whom he wrote with the news that Pyle died a soldier’s death. Fowler questions whether Pyle actually died a soldier’s death, since the Economic Mission doesn’t sound like the Army, and the Attaché angrily replies that Pyle had special duties.
Only a few days after Pyle’s death, we see the coping mechanisms that Fowler has used to survive in Vietnam. Instead of showing remorse for someone to whom he was evidently close, Fowler retreats behind a shell of sarcasm, wisecracks, and drinking. It’s also in this section that Greene builds additional suspense by suggesting that Pyle wasn’t as innocent as he seems—he had “special duties,” suggesting, perhaps, that he was more directly involved in the Vietnam War than his academic training and youthful idealism might suggest.
Themes
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
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 that Pyle was killed because he was “too innocent to live” and because he got involved. Fowler says Pyle only knew about Vietnam from the books he read and had no real experience, but was still expected to end Communism and ensure democracy in Vietnam. The Attaché scorns Fowler and says he thought he and Pyle were friends. Fowler says they were, but that he would have liked to see Pyle end up with an American girl back home. The Attaché knew about Pyle stealing Phuong from Fowler, and says that he was on Fowler’s side in that matter. Fowler walks off toward Phuong, who is waiting, and leaves the Attaché perplexed at Fowler’s complex relationship with Pyle.
At the end of this chapter, we’re given a basic problem that the text is, on one level, trying to solve: a man is dead, and his romantic rival seems to be responsible—what exactly could have happened? In this sense the Attaché is a kind of “stand-in” for the audience—confused and a little contemptuous of Fowler, but above all else, puzzled about his relationship with Pyle. The basic difference between Fowler and Pyle seems clear, though: Pyle is an idealist, who believes that intelligence and training can solve any problem, while Fowler is looser and more realistic in his thinking.
Themes
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon