Fowler and Pyle’s desire for Phuong prompts much discussion over differing views of intimate relationships. Fowler, an older, more experienced lover, has a more detached opinion toward relationships. He dwells on their inevitable end, yet hopes to prolong his relationship with Phuong as long as possible. He also claims to be disinterested in Phuong’s feelings, only using the relationship for his own physical pleasure, but it is clear that he has deep feelings for her. It is easier for Fowler to deny his own feelings knowing that his relationship with her will likely end soon than to face the difficulties of ending an emotionally invested relationship. On the other hand, Pyle has strong emotional feelings toward Phuong, yet his upright moral background prevents him from pursuing a passionate relationship before their future together, separate from Fowler, is assured. For example, when he dances with Phuong, he maintains a distance from her that Fowler finds comical. Fowler corresponds with his wife, who lives in England. They were separated and could not maintain their marriage, but his wife’s religion prohibits them from getting a divorce. Thus, Fowler cannot marry Phuong, as he is already technically married. Pyle, who has a less experienced and more traditional view of romance, believes that Fowler is doing a disservice to Phuong and that she deserves to be married.
For her part, Phuong’s approach to love is practical. When Fowler asks for a kiss, for example, she pauses her story, kisses him, and resumes her story with no indication of romantic attachment. She obeys Fowler’s commands and maintains a purely domestic role that mostly consists of preparing Fowler’s opium pipes and having sex with him. Phuong’s older sister, Miss Hei, has a financially-driven view on partnership and marriage. She heavily pressures Phuong to go with Pyle, the richer suitor, which causes anxiety for Fowler. Ultimately, both Fowler and Pyle act in a way that treats her as an object to be won rather than a human being with her own feelings. Thus, on the surface, neither Fowler nor Pyle seem to exhibit real love for Phuong. Instead, Pyle displays the excitement and desire that come with romance and Fowler focuses on the physical pleasure of sex in his relationship with Phuong. Under the surface, however, Greene suggests that each suppress their true feelings of love toward Phuong in their own way, Fowler by being detached, and Pyle by waiting for more traditionally appropriate relationship conditions (getting engaged to Phuong).
Romance and Sex ThemeTracker
Romance and Sex Quotes in The Quiet American
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.
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.
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?”
“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…
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.”
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?”
“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.”
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 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.”