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.
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal ThemeTracker
Friendship, Loyalty, and Betrayal Quotes in The Quiet American
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?”
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.”
“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.
“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…
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
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.