Three weeks after arriving at the military base, Fowler returns to Saigon—he was gone much longer than he’d expected to be. Pyle had left the base the morning after he arrived. Pyle is incapable of causing any pain, Fowler muses, but months later (as the narrative jumps ahead) he thinks that Pyle finally had to endure pain himself—under a bridge to Dakow.
Fowler’s struggle to return to Saigon symbolizes the weaknesses of the “old world”—Europe. Where America, the young, strong new superpower, manages to achieve its goals quickly and efficiently, Europe/Fowler struggles with delays and setbacks.
Fowler learns that Pyle left the military base by convincing a young officer to take him back to the city by boat. Fowler finds that Pyle has left a letter for him. In this letter, Pyle thanks Fowler for his company, and promises him that he won’t see Phuong until Fowler is back in Saigon, too. Fowler finds this letter infuriating—clearly, Pyle thinks he’s going to end up with Phuong.
Pyle’s politeness seems like a smokescreen for his obvious arrogance about ending up with Phuong in the end, since he’s the younger, more attractive man. At the same time, it’s not clear to us if Pyle actually feels this way, or if Fowler is only projecting his own insecurities onto Pyle—Fowler thinks he’s old and weak, so he assumes that Pyle thinks so too.
Fowler attends a Press Conference at the military base. A French officer speaks with an English interpreter. The officer explains that losses have been heavy. Granger, who is also attending the conference, angrily criticizes the military for not keeping close enough tabs on its casualties of war. The French officer explains, very patiently, that the military is waiting for more supplies from the American military, which haven’t arrived yet. Fowler pities this officer—he has no idea that Granger cares more about news than about his country. The officer begs Granger not to report his statements about the delays in American supplies, and then leaves the room.
Although it often seems that Fowler is a cynical, utterly amoral man, Greene stresses that he has some deeply-buried pity and affection for others. We see this by contrasting him with the callous Granger. Another difference between Fowler and Granger is that Fowler cares about the truth—not the truth of God or Christianity, but the literal truth of reporting facts. This reflects his belief that he’s not engagé—part of being indifferent to the war means reporting everything fairly.
Fowler leaves the press conference, thinking that none of the information he’s collected will make it “through the censors.” He thinks about his predicament: if he gets a good “scoop,” he’ll have to leave Vietnam to report it—otherwise, it’ll be censored. But by leaving Vietnam, Fowler will in essence be surrendering to Pyle.
For the first time in a while, Fowler sees a clear conflict between his career as a journalist and his love for Phuong. He can’t write a story that’s too good, or he’ll be sent away from Phuong—so he has to keep up a general pattern of mediocrity.
After leaving the press conference, Fowler goes to a bar, where he plays cards with an old friend, Pietri. As they play, Fowler tells Pietri that he’s “going back.” “Home?” Pietri asks—“No,” Fowler replies, “England.”