The Quiet American

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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."

From childhood I had never believed in permanence, and yet I had longed for it. Always I was afraid of losing happiness. This month, next year, Phuong would leave me. If not next year, in three years. Death was the only absolute value in my world. Lose life and one would lose nothing again for ever. I envied those who could believe in a God and I distrusted them. I felt they were keeping their courage up with a fable of the changeless and the permanent. Death was far more certain than God, and with death there would be no longer the daily possibility of love dying. The nightmare of a future of boredom and indifference would lift. I could never have been a pacifist. To kill a man was surely to grant him an immeasurable benefit. Oh yes, people always, everywhere, loved their enemies. It was their friends they preserved for pain and vacuity.

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker)
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

Fowler cynically considers his situation in life, and finds nothing to be happy about. He's afraid that Phuong, his young, beautiful Vietnamese girlfriend, is going to leave him for someone else (perhaps Alden Pyle). In general, Fowler is frightened by the impermanence of life itself--every happy moment fades away into sadness, given enough time.

The passage is a great example of Fowler's simultaneous cynicism and machismo--he is praising and even embracing death here. Death, he notes, is the only perfect thing in the world, because death alone never changes. One could say that Fowler--bereft of any belief in God--only focuses on death as giving life meaning. Thus he risks his life to report on the war, drinks and smokes heavily, and generally embraces the inevitability of dying.

Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 1 Quotes

The canal was full of bodies: I am reminded now of an Irish stew containing too much meat. The bodies overlapped: one head, seal-grey, and anonymous as a convict with a shaven scalp, stuck up out of the water like a buoy. There was no blood: I suppose it had flowed away a long time ago. I have no idea how many there were: they must have been caught in a cross-fire, trying to get back, and I suppose every man of us along the bank was thinking, “Two can play at that game.” I too took my eyes away; we didn’t want to be reminded of how little we counted, how quickly, simply and anonymously death came. Even though my reason wanted the state of death, I was afraid like a virgin of the act. I would have liked death to come with due warning, so that I could prepare myself. For what? I didn’t know, nor how, except by taking a look around at the little I would be leaving.

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker)
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Fowler offers a gruesome description of some of the horrors of the Vietnam War: he compares a ditch full of bodies to an Irish stew. The sight of the bodies (which the solders come across) prompts some interesting thoughts for Fowler: he thinks about the inevitability of death for all human beings, himself included, but also expresses his desire to at least "take a look around" at life before he leaves it.

The passage reinforces the savagery and bloodiness of the Vietnam War, which is only in its early stages during the period in which the novel is set. Note the anonymity of death in the scene--Fowler has no way of knowing who the dead bodies belong to; death is faceless and depersonalized. In the Vietnam War, and perhaps in war in general, human beings don't count for much--they're just bodies sent to die defending an abstract political ideal. (The passage is a stunning rebuke to Alden Pyle's philosophy, especially his glib willingness to sacrifice lives for his political ends.)

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 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

We began to throw and it seemed impossible to me that I could ever have a life again, away from the rue Gambetta and the rue Catinat, the flat taste of vermouth cassis, the homely click of dice, and the gunfire travelling like a clock-hand around the horizon. I said, “I’m going back.” “Home?” Pietri asked, throwing a four-to-one. “No. England.”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Pietri (speaker)
Related Symbols: Alcohol and Opium
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Fowler decides that it's time for him to return to England. He's been competing with Pyle for Phuong's affections, but he senses that he'll be unable to win Phuong, since Pyle is younger, handsomer, and more earnest. Resigned to his failure, Fowler prepares to go back--but as he makes clear, he doesn't think of England as his "home" on any level.

Where, then, is Fowler's true home? Greene implies that Fowler--a globe-trotting, world-weary journalist--has no home at all. Fowler has spent his entire adult life traveling around, forming momentary attachments to the local people in the countries where he's stationed. (For all we know, he's had a comparable adventure in another country before the events of the novel even begin.) Paradoxically, Fowler's remarks help us understand why he was so attached to Phuong--he has no real friends or family back in England (except for a wife whom he despises), and so Phuong represented a chance at a new life in Vietnam.

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.

She gave me a quick look over the needle and registered her mistake. Then as she kneaded the opium she began to talk at random of what clothes she would wear in London, where we should live, of the tube-trains she had read about in a novel, and the double-decker buses: would we fly or go by sea?
“And the Statue of Liberty…” she said.
“No, Phuong, that’s American too.”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Phuong Hei
Related Symbols: Alcohol and Opium
Page Number: 73-74
Explanation and Analysis:

In this opium-influenced dialogue, Phuong tells Fowler that she's excited to spend the rest of her life with him. Phuong thinks that she and Fowler are going to get married and travel back to England--there, Phuong looks forward to seeing the famous sights of the Western world.

But as the passage makes clear, Phuong doesn't really understand the first thing about the Western world--she even thinks the Statue of Liberty is in England, rather than America. As Fowler seems to interpret it, Phuong's mistake suggests that some part of her is still more attracted to Pyle the American than to Fowler the Englishman. Ina broader sense, though, Phuong's words make us wonder if she's really in love with either Pyle or Fowler. It's entirely possible that she thinks of Fowler as a means to an end--a way for her to get out of Vietnam and make a better life for herself--rather than a loving husband. Fowler has suggested that he really doesn't know much about Phuong or Phuong's culture, and here, it's implied that Phuong doesn't know anything about Fowler.

Part 2, Chapter 2, Section 2 Quotes

I have read so often of people’s thoughts in the moment of fear: of God, or family, or a woman. I admire their control. I thought of nothing, not even of the trap-door above me: I ceased, for those seconds, to exist: I was fear taken neat. At the top of the ladder I banged my head because fear couldn’t count steps, hear, or see. Then my head came over the earth floor and nobody shot at me and fear seeped away.

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker)
Related Symbols: Alcohol and Opium
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Fowler describes a harrowing moment in which he and Pyle sneak into a French fortress in the middle of the Vietnamese wilderness. Fowler is genuinely frightened as he climbs up the ladder into the fort--even though he's an experienced journalist, and has seen all sorts of things in his career.

It's interesting to consider the way Greene depicts Fowler's fear as both a weakness and a strength. Fowler describes himself as feeling "fear taken neat"--i.e., he's comparing his fear to an alcoholic beverage served without ice to dilute it: something pure but also harsh. And yet even if Fowler is extremely frightened of losing his life, his loneliness and atheism seem to give him strength--he thinks of "nothing," and seems to cease to exist altogether. Paradoxically, Fowler's ability to disappear into his own fear makes him capable of taking action, even when he's very frightened. Fowler's refusal to have a family or believe in God gives him a peculiar, nihilistic strength.

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 2 Quotes

Mr. Heng turned away. “I only want you to remember what you have seen,” he said, walking back in the shadows of the junk-pile. “Perhaps one day you will have a reason for writing about it. But you must not say you saw the drum here.” “Nor the mould?” I asked. “Particularly not the mould.”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Mr. Heng (speaker)
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important section, Fowler finds evidence of military technology in a small factory, owned by Mr. Heng. By this point in the novel, Fowler has a suspicion that Pyle is involved in covert military activity in Vietnam. Mr. Heng's advice to Fowler is a classic example of a "Chekhov's Pistol"--a detail that's introduced early on in a work of literature and is clearly going to be important later on.

The passage conveys Fowler's status as a reporter and a recorder of information. Fowler is an active participant in the events of the novel, but he's also the character who remembers the novel's events--he writes a whole book about them, after all. Fowler has a unique burden: he has the challenging job of writing down Pyle's story, honoring his memory while also exposing his flaws. Here, for instance, Fowler provides early evidence that Pyle is a murderer--someone who's willing to use plastic explosives (made from Mr. Heng's mould) to kill innocent civilians.

Part 2, Chapter 3, Section 3 Quotes

“Yes. I wish you hadn’t written it.”
“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 1, Section 3 Quotes

I went into the passage. There was a door opposite me marked Men. I went in and locked the door and sitting with my head against the cold wall I cried. I hadn’t cried until now. Even their lavatories were air-conditioned, and presently the temperate tempered air dried my tears as it dries the spit in your mouth and the seed in your body.

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker)
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Fowler has just found out that Phuong is conducting a romantic affair with Pyle. All of Fowler’s machinations have been in vain—in the end, Phuong has chosen the younger, handsomer man. Fowler is so overcome with emotion that he goes into the bathroom and cries.The scene is remarkable because it’s the only time in the novel that Fowler shows any bona fide expression sadness. He often feels sad, but it’s only in this scene that he breaks down and shows external signs of his misery.

The ironic juxtaposition of the “Men” sign and Fowler’s weak, stereotypically-feminine tears reminds us that Fowler has always considered himself a manly, stoic man, for whom crying is a hideous show of weakness—for Fowler to cry, then is a mark of genuine anguish. And Greene also conveys the transitive nature of life here. Even Fowler’s tears are short-lived—they dry almost immediately. In the universe of The Quiet American, everything (even or especially emotion) is always on the verge of disappearing.

Part 3, Chapter 1, Section 5 Quotes

He watched me as I stretched out for my second pipe. “I envy you your means of escape.”
“You don’t know what I’m escaping from. It’s not from the war. That’s no concern of mine. I’m not involved.”
“You will all be. One day.”
“Not me.”
“You are still limping.”

Related Characters: Thomas Fowler (speaker), Captain Trouin (speaker)
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Fowler argues with a French military commander, Captain Trouin, about his role in Vietnam. Fowler wants to believe that he’s basically uninvolved with life in Vietnam—he’s a reporter, passively observing and writing about the things he witnesses in the country. To be involved—"engagé"—is the last thing on his mind.

And yet as Captain Trouin points out—and as we’ve known for a long time!—Fowler is anything but disengaged from Vietnam. On the contrary, he’s deeply involved, both in the culture of Vietnam itself and in the military conflict there. Fowler has struck up a romantic relationship with Phuong, and as he investigates Pyle’s actions in more and more detail, he becomes increasingly involved in the country’s military struggles. Trouin (whether wittingly or not) conveys his point with a metaphorical example: that Fowler is still “limping,” suggesting the lasting scars he’s sustained on account of his involvement in Vietnam.

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?”
“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.

No matches.