The Quiet American

The Quiet American

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The Quiet American Part 2, Chapter 2, Section 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Fowler has just climbed over the walls of a French fortress. On the other side, he sees two men, both carrying guns. They are Vietnamese. Fowler tries to tell them his situation: his car has run out of gasoline. The soldiers, who speak French, tell Fowler that 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 one of the guards has a gun lying next to him. Slowly, Pyle inches toward the gun, and quickly snatches it up. To his surprise, the guard makes no attempt to grab the gun back. Pyle now has a rifle, as does one of the Vietnamese guards.
The indifference of the guards to the war in Vietnam is obvious from the moment that Pyle snatches a gun from one of them. These officers have been stationed at their fort for so long that they pay no attention to the Europeans who seek shelter there. As English speakers, Fowler and Pyle have many privileges in Vietnam. The Vietminh aren’t directly at war with either America or England at this point, meaning that people like Fowler and Pyle can largely carry on with their business.
Themes
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Pyle and Fowler spend the night at the French fort. Fowler, pointing to the two soldiers defending the fort by themselves, asks Pyle if they know they’re defending democracy, and sarcastically asks if York Harding could explain democracy to them. Pyle is unperturbed by Fowler’s sarcasm, and tells him that York writes about noble intellectual truth. Fowler asks Pyle about his religion, and Pyle explains that he’s a Unitarian. Pyle goes on to explain that the people of Vietnam don’t want Communism. He urges Fowler to oppose the French, and the history of colonialism in Asia. Fowler replies that he hates injustice, but can’t think in terms as broad as “colonialism.” He adds that he dislikes liberalism—he’s more in favor of the “exploiter who fights for what he exploits, and dies with it.” Fowler insists that he’s not engagé—that is, not involved in the political conflicts in Vietnam.
Pyle’s attraction to York Harding is based on his idealism: Pyle is interested in universal truth, and committed to the notion that academic theory can be used to enact meaningful change in Vietnam. We begin to see why he might be attracted to Caodaism, too: Unitarianism is a similar blending of “three into one” (the Holy Trinity into one God). Indeed, Caodaism might be Greene’s wry critique of Unitarianism itself. Greene concludes this section by reminding us that Fowler still believes that he’s not engagé. While we’ve just seen evidence of this—he wasn’t shot by the Vietnamese for exactly this reason—by now it seems almost impossible to be detached in a war zone.
Themes
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
As Pyle and Fowler talk, they hear shouts and gunshots from outside the fort. The two soldiers seem uninterested in the noise. Fowler explains to Pile that the Vietminh have just attacked a nearby fort. Pyle asks Fowler if he’s frightened—Fowler replies that he is, but adds that their chances of survival are high, since the Vietminh rarely attack more than a few forts in one night.
Fowler’s greater experience and patience with the war is clear in this scene: while Pyle wants to panic, Fowler has learned how to deal with his fear and use logic and reason to calm himself down.
Themes
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
The time drags on, very slowly. Pyle confesses to Fowler that he can’t stop thinking about Phuong. Fowler thinks that Pyle is as innocent as a dog. Pyle confesses that he’s “never had a girl.” Fowler tells Pyle about his most “meaningful” experience with a woman. The woman was neither his wife nor Phuong, but rather another woman he met in Vietnam. Now, he admits, he’s afraid of losing Phuong. Fowler instantly regrets telling Pyle this.
Pyle and Fowler engage in some male bonding here. Greene’s novels are full of displays of masculinity in this mode: two men, usually in the midst of a crisis, put aside their differences by talking about women. Again there is a homoerotic tinge to this scene, as the two men share their weaknesses and insecurities regarding women.
Themes
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
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As Pyle and Fowler talk, a voice suddenly speaks from a megaphone outside the fort. Fowler, noticing that the two soldiers look frightened, guesses that the Vietminh have noticed Fowler’s car, and are ordering the guards to send Fowler and Pyle out of the fort. Pyle quickly points his gun at the other guard and motions for him to drop his weapon; the guard does so, and Fowler picks it up. Pyle asks Fowler what to do next, and suggests that they kill the two guards. Fowler rejects this idea, reasoning that they’ve done absolutely nothing wrong.
In spite of his lack of experience, Pyle is no fool: he uses his gun to disarm the other guard. It’s revealing that, in the midst of this criss, Pyle seems perfectly comfortable killing the two guards—and it’s equally telling that Fowler is the one who wants to keep them alive. Fowler affects cynicism and indifference to the world, but Pyle is the one who considers Vietnamese lives expendable.
Themes
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Fowler and Pyle decide to sneak away from the fort by climbing down the ladder under the cover of nightfall. They do so, very slowly, hearing the two guards whispering to one another behind them. When they’ve climbed to the bottom of the ladder, they quietly walk away from the tower toward a field. Suddenly, a bazooka fires at the fort, and the force of the explosion knocks Fowler over.
Greene ends his chapter with a “cliff-hanger”—it seems that Fowler has finally encountered some genuine danger. It’s unclear if Pyle will help him or not, but in any event, they’ve become much closer during this chapter, admitting highly personal things to one another about love and women.
Themes
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon