The Quiet American

The Quiet American

Alcohol and Opium Symbol Analysis

Alcohol and Opium Symbol Icon
Graham Greene was famous for his drinking, and the protagonist of The Quiet American, Thomas Fowler, shares this trait. At many points in the novel, other characters, particularly those who are in the military, also drink heavily or smoke opium. At the simplest level, alcohol and opium symbolize the “escape” with which Fowler tries to distract himself from the basic wretchedness of his situation in Vietnam: he’s trapped in an unstable relationship to Phuong Hei, he’s competing with Alden Pyle for her love, and, above all, he’s seen incredible violence and death—without alcohol, he feels, he’d go insane. As a general rule of thumb, the characters who have experienced the greatest misery are the heaviest drinkers—alcohol represents their sadness, their trauma, and their inability to live with their own experiences and memories.

Alcohol and Opium Quotes in The Quiet American

The The Quiet American quotes below all refer to the symbol of Alcohol and Opium. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of The Quiet American published in 2004.
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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

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Part 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

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:

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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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Alcohol and Opium Symbol Timeline in The Quiet American

The timeline below shows where the symbol Alcohol and Opium appears in The Quiet American. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
Phuong begins the laborious task of preparing an opium pipe for Fowler to smoke. According to Vietnamese superstition, a lover who smoked opium would... (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
Fowler smokes a second pipe of opium and tells Phuong that when she left him for Pyle, he fell back into heavy... (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
...long after, Fowler and Phuong arrive at the police office. Fowler is still high on opium. The French officer questioning them is named Vigot, a polite man whom Fowler has met... (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...interrogation room with Vigot and Phuong—Fowler guesses that Pyle is dead, which Vigot confirms. The opium makes Pyle’s death less meaningful to Fowler. (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...dead. Fowler claims he’s not guilty of murdering Pyle, but the narration suggests that the opium is suppressing some feelings of guilt. With Phuong still in the room but silent, Vigot... (full context)
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
...reveals to Phuong in French that Pyle is dead. She reacts calmly and makes more opium for Fowler. She stays with him that night, and he wakes up to find his... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
...the previous chapter: Fowler is back in Saigon, and Pyle has “invited himself” for a drink. Fowler sits in his home with Phuong, who has no idea that he’s planning to... (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
...doesn’t succeed in getting a divorce from his wife. Phuong packs a pipe full of opium, and inhales. She asks Fowler if there are skyscrapers in England. Fowler tells her that... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3, Section 1
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
...says that he doesn’t know—Helen hasn’t made up her mind yet. Phuong and Fowler smoke opium together, and Fowler lies and tells Phuong that Helen is consulting a lawyer about divorce... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1, Section 5
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Inevitability of Death Theme Icon
...spends the evening with Captain Trouin, an important officer of the Gascogne Squadron. As they drink and gamble together, Fowler asks Trouin if the areas the squadron bombed that afternoon were... (full context)
Vietnam and the West Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
Fowler and Trouin smoke opium, and shortly thereafter, Fowler retires to have sex with a prostitute, whom Trouin recommends very... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2, Section 2
Impartiality and Action Theme Icon
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...talk. While he waits for Pyle to receive the note he goes to have a drink at the Continental. He sees workers repairing the damage caused by the explosion a few... (full context)