Part Four, Chapter 2
The chapter moves back in time to the moments just after the bombing in the square, catching up with Fowler on his way to see Mr. Heng. He locates Mr. Heng and tells him that he has come from the Place Garnier, where the bombings took place. Mr. Heng has already heard about the tragedy and is trying to keep a low profile while the police are active, even though he wasn't involved in the attack. "It is the business of the police to find a culprit," he says (228).
Fowler does not waste any time. "It was Pyle again," he says (228). Fowler asks Heng for more information on Pyle's boss, but Mr. Heng believes that Pyle is working for himself. Fowler wants to stop him. He does not want something like this to happen again, and Mr. Heng tells him that he can publish the truth. Fowler knows that the editors at his paper are not interested in the truth or in General Thé; they are interested in Communists. Mr. Heng also suggests that Fowler go to the police with his information, but Fowler also knows that the police will not try to arrest an American with diplomatic privileges.
Mr. Heng tries to calm Fowler down, and he makes another, much more serious suggestion. He wants Fowler to call on Pyle and ask him if he has plans for dinner that evening. He then instructs Fowler to bring a book to his window as a signal that Pyle has agreed to meet him. He asks Fowler to arrange the dinner at the Vieux Moulin because it is near the bridge to Dakow, where Mr. Heng and his associates will be able "to find a spot and talk [to Pyle] undisturbed" (229). Mr. Heng does not tell Fowler what he plans on doing, and Fowler isn't quite ready to agree. "Sooner or later," Heng said, "one has to take sides - if one is to remain human" (230). Fowler returns home and calls on Pyle.
Fowler continues to go back and forth in his head, agonizing over what he should do. Pyle soon arrives at the door with his dog in tow. Pyle is relieved to see Fowler because he has been thinking that Fowler is mad at him. Pyle continues, "You know so much now, it won't hurt to tell you a bit more. I saw Thé this afternoon" (232). Pyle confirms everything that Fowler and Heng have been suspecting. Pyle has not dismissed Thé as a legitimate "Third Force" option, and has only issued a harsh warning to him about the bombing in the square. Fowler expresses his frustration but Pyle counters, "If [Thé] came to power with our help, we could rely on him."
Pyle believes the Vietnamese will support the plan because they "aren't complicated" (232). Fowler can't believe that Pyle still maintains such an oversimplified view of the world, asking, "Is that what you've learned in a few months? You'll be calling them childlike next" (232). Fowler decides to ask him to dinner, and Pyle accepts. Pyle desperately wants to be Fowler's friend. He believes that the two of them will be able to work through this because Phuong was more important than Thé, and they were able to work through that. Fowler, however, doesn't believe that their love triangle is more important than the bombing in the square. Pyle tries to comfort Fowler by telling him that the American Embassy will be sending funds to the families of those who died or were injured.
Unable to continue listening to Pyle, Fowler interrupts him and confirms that they will meet at the Vieux Moulin between 9 and 9:30. Fowler then moves to the window, as instructed by Heng, and gives him the signal that Pyle has agreed to meet. Pyle is talkative that night and tries to stay with Fowler before their dinner plans, but Fowler tells him that he has a previous engagement. Concerned about what he has just set up, Fowler asks Pyle if he carries a gun, and Pyle says that he doesn't because of orders from the Legation. Pyle also reveals that he is nearly blind in the dark, so a gun would not do him any good. The conversation continues and Pyle suggests that maybe Fowler has been right all along about not getting involved in the conflict, but Fowler responds, "There's always a point of change, some moment of emotion - "(236). Pyle doesn't believe that Fowler has reached that point yet, but Fowler hints that the bombing may have changed his views. Pyle callously responds, "They were only war casualties. It was a pity, but you can't always hit your target. Anyway, they died in the right cause... In a way you could say they died for democracy" (236 - 237). Pyle gets up to leave and Fowler shows a twinge of regret - he gives Pyle the option to meet at the Vieux Moulin or at Fowler's flat, knowing that meeting at the flat will save Pyle's life.
Fowler begins to construct his own alibi, and he goes to the Majestic. He speaks to a man named Wilkins, and then he goes to the cinema. He leaves before the film ends and takes a trishaw to the Vieux Moulin, where Granger is throwing a loud and boisterous party. Fowler avoids the party and orders only pastis - he wants to give Pyle time to arrive, and he believes that waiting to eat his dinner will mean that there is still hope. But Fowler still isn't sure what he wants to be the end result. By 9:30, he knows that Pyle will not be coming to meet him. Fowler thinks of Phuong and how she will never see New England. He begins to examine his decision: "What right had I to value her less than the dead bodies in the square? Suffering is not increased by numbers; one body can contain all the suffering the world can feel. I had judged like a journalist, in terms of quantity, and I had betrayed my own principles; I had become as engagé as Pyle, and it seemed to me that no decision would ever be simple again" (242). Fowler decides that if something has interfered and Pyle has somehow escaped unharmed, he will tell him everything.
Granger gets up from his party and approaches Fowler, asking to speak to him outside. Fowler thinks that Granger may want to fight, but he reluctantly follows him outside anyway. However, Granger reveals to Fowler that his son is sick with polio and he might die. He has thrown the party in honor of his son's birthday, but he had not realized until just now how serious the boy's illness actually is. Fowler offers to fill in for his assistant so that Granger can return home, but Granger declines because it would get him in trouble with the news agency. Granger goes back inside and Fowler descends the steps, which is where he finds Phuong.
Fowler questions his decision to take a side several times throughout this definitive chapter. When Fowler leaves the square to meet with Mr. Heng, he believes that he is ready to take action against Pyle. However, once he is finally in front of Mr. Heng and discussing options to deal with Pyle, Fowler realizes that he is not quite ready. If he decides to go along with Heng's plan and be an accomplice in Pyle's death, then there is no turning back. He will have made a decision to support the Communists, and this will complicate many of his decisions moving forward. He is still unsure of himself when he speaks to Mr. Heng, but Mr. Heng is convincing. Fowler agrees with Heng when he says that he must take a side to remain human. To do nothing after the tragedy would be a failure of humanity.
Mr. Heng is very persuasive when Fowler comes to visit him, but he uses subtle tactics to get what he wants. He senses that Fowler is enraged but still not ready to commit himself to a cause. He needs to warm to the idea of taking an action that will result in a man's death. Therefore, Heng offers Fowler a series of possible resolutions, like exposing Pyle in the newspaper or telling the police. Mr. Heng is very savvy, though, and he knows that an article about American involvement will never make it to press. He is equally aware that the French police are looking to blame Communists for such attacks, not their American allies. By offering these ineffective ideas, Heng leads Fowler to see that his only option is to allow Mr. Heng to handle the situation.
However, even after Fowler agrees to the plan, he is still considering ways to derail it. Maybe he could allude to the danger of the path to the restaurant, and Pyle would choose not to come on his own volition. He is repeatedly tempted to warn Pyle, but then he becomes very frustrated with Pyle's analysis of the bombing. He cannot believe that Pyle thinks that their fight over Phuong is more important than the deaths in the square. Fowler cannot erase the image of the mother holding her baby from his mind, and he does not believe that a love triangle can possible outweigh all of those innocent people dying. As he hears more of Pyle's opinions, he decides not to abort the plan.
Pyle's selfishness goes beyond his elevation of Phuong over the death of innocent people. Despite all of the destruction that he has caused, the only thing he cares about is keeping Fowler as a friend. He repeatedly mentions how happy he is to have heard from Fowler, which makes it clear that Pyle is only concerned with satisfying his own wants and needs. His reaction to the bombing also reinforces his stubborn nature. After months of living in Vietnam and even falling in love with a Vietnamese woman, Pyle still has the gall to make a broad generalization like, "these people aren't complicated" (232). He doesn't even object to Fowler's sarcastic comment that they are "childlike." Pyle is so dependent on Harding's theories that he cannot form his own opinions and observations, regardless of what he sees on the ground. Unlike Fowler, Pyle does not change over the course of the novel and his blind adherence to his beliefs is what causes his eventual downfall.