The Quiet American

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Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Quiet American, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon

The central relationship of the novel is the complicated one between Fowler and Pyle. Pyle wants to maintain an amiable relationship with Fowler. Initially, Pyle’s youth and political views make Fowler cautious of Pyle, but Fowler also takes a liking to Pyle’s blunt and innocent American charm. This complicated relationship is made more complicated when Pyle tells Fowler that he is interested in Fowler’s girlfriend, Phuong, as well as by the cultural differences between them: Pyle consistently calls Fowler by his first name, Thomas, though Fowler only feels comfortable referring to Pyle by his surname. Fowler lies to Pyle multiple times in order to make himself seem a more viable partner for Phuong. Contrastingly, Pyle lays his intentions out to Fowler very clearly, but his lack of consideration for Fowler’s relationship with Phuong is as aggressive as Fowler’s deceit. They admire each other, but are each also jealous of the other. Their mutual love for Phuong draws them together in a way that is extremely uncomfortable for Fowler.

The relationship between the two is very uneven. Fowler’s role in Pyle’s assassination demonstrates the ultimate betrayal of friendship. On the other hand, Pyle saves Fowler’s life at the risk of his own, a symbol of utmost loyalty. The text shows various ways in which the artifice of friendship breaks down due to deception and betrayal. For example, Fowler tries to maintain the veneer of friendship with Vigot even as Vigot suspects him of Pyle’s murder. Yet it is not loyalty or communication that can save a friendship either, as seen in the failure of Pyle’s selflessness and communication to produce a successful friendship with Fowler. As in politics, Greene suggests that aligned goals are actually the most important factor in maintaining a friendship.

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Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Quotes in The Quiet American

Below you will find the important quotes in The Quiet American related to the theme of Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

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).


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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 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 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 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.”
“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 4, Chapter 3 Quotes

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.