The Quiet American

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

Summary
Analysis
It is the day of an important festival in Vietnam—the festival of Caodaism. The religion of Caodaism was invented by a civil servant, and consists of a combination of three religions, including Christianity, Confucianism, and Buddhism. The “Holy Seat of Caodaism”—complete with a Pope, and female cardinals—is located in the city of Tanyin, and Fowler goes there to cover the festival for his editor.
The combination of Christianity, Buddhism, and Confucianism seems hilariously pell-mell (there are all sorts of fundamental tenets of these three religions that could never be combined with others). The church of Caodaism seems to be founded on the kind of naïve optimism that Fowler finds so distasteful Pyle finds so attractive.
Themes
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
At the festival in Tanyin, Fowler overhears talk of General Thé. The Pope’s deputy tells Fowler that Thé has kidnapped a cardinal from Tanyin, but he refuses to say anything else. He reminds Fowler that Caodaism is “love and truth.”
The deputy’s advice about Caodaism seems utterly vague—there’s no specific explanation of what Caodaism stands for. Furthermore, “love and truth” have challenged Fowler in the last few chapters—he’s tried and failed to show love for Phuong, and tried and failed to report the truth. Thus, the Caodaist motto seems almost mathematically designed to irritate him.
Themes
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
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 Fowler, and inquires about Phuong frequently. Seeing Fowler, Pyle greets him warmly. He’s eating a “Vit-Health” sandwich, which his mother has sent him from America, despite the fact that food is being served at the Caodaist festival. As they talk, a Caodaist commandant, who, Fowler remembers, had been an assistant to General Thé, greets Pyle. Fowler senses that Pyle and the commandant want to talk alone, and he leaves them.
We see more illustrations of Pyle’s childish optimism. Here, he refuses to eat Vietnamese food, instead favoring ridiculous American health food. We see, first-hand, how shamelessly Pyle refuses to get involved in Vietnamese culture, and seems to have no interest in it whatsoever. It’s strongly implied that Pyle is working with General Thé, though it’s not yet clear exactly what Pyle is doing for him.
Themes
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
Fowler walks around the Caodaist temple, noting, with a 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 into Saigon.
Fowler has a very European scorn for the new, the garish, and the naïve—qualities that seem at the heart of Caodaism, and are also very American.
Themes
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
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