The Quiet American

The Quiet American Summary and Analysis of Part One, Chapter 3

Part One, Chapter 3


Chapter 3 begins with a flashback to the day that Pyle and Phuong met, two months after Pyle's arrival in Vietnam. Phuong is with Fowler at the Continental Hotel when Pyle invites them to join his table, where he is dining with the American Economic Attaché. The attaché is surprised to see Fowler, as the press corps is busy in northern Vietnam reporting on the alleged French victory. As if to demonstrate his disappointment in Fowler, the attaché praises an American reporter named Bill Granger, whom “you can’t keep out of a scrap” (35).

Coincidentally, Granger arrives soon thereafter accompanied by a drunk French man whom he calls Mick. No one recognizes "Mick," and Granger admits that the man is a stranger and that Mick isn't even his name. Granger then turns his attention to Phuong. After Pyle identifies her as a friend of Fowler’s, Granger warns the Brit to be careful of diseases, proclaiming “Thank God for penicillin” (36). Thinking that Phuong is a prostitute, Granger asks her if she has a date that night. Fowler slyly responds, “She’s got a date every night” (37). Granger then describes the recent press conference, which sounds like a publicity stunt. Granger’s account reveals the strategic inaccuracies in the narrative of war that the French are perpetuating. Later, upon Granger’s insistence, the party moves to the Chalet, so that Phuong and Fowler can eat while Granger takes Pyle to get “a bit of tail” at the House of Five Hundred Girls.

On their way to the Chalet, Fowler sends Phuong ahead to reserve a table while he goes to the whorehouse to recover Pyle. Fowler finds Pyle looking horrified and overwhelmed - desperately in need of rescue - while Granger is throughly enjoying himself. Fowler extricates Pyle from the complicated situation and takes him to the restaurant where Phuong is waiting for them. At the Chalet, Pyle addresses Phuong gallantly, apologizing for keeping her waiting. Fowler remembers the first time he saw Phuong - she dancing at the Grand Monde. Fowler is jarred from his reflection when Pyle asks Phuong to dance. Phuong agrees, and Fowler has no choice but to watch them. 

Meanwhile, Phuong’s sister, Miss Hei, motions to Fowler. He invites her over to the table. Miss Hei is obviously curious about Pyle, asking if he is married and commenting that he looks like a good, reliable man. Pyle and Phuong soon return to the table, where Fowler formally introduces Pyle to Miss Hei. Much to Fowler's surprise, Miss Hei starts talking to Pyle about Phuong's needs. “'She needs care,'" Miss Hei says, "'She is very, very loyal'” (47).  Miss Hei makes it clear that she is disappointed in her sister's choice to be with Fowler, who is already married. Miss Hei asks Fowler to arrange for them all to meet again. Fowler responds that he will soon be heading north to report on the war, but Miss Hei decides that she and Phuong will spend time with Pyle while Fowler is away.

Fowler's narration turns internal, and he questions his decision to go north. “Why should I want to die when Phuong [sleeps] beside me every night?” (50) He realizes that he has always been afraid of losing his happiness, knowing deep down that at some point Phuong will leave him. The night comes to a close when Pyle becomes uncomfortable with the sexual nature of the performances at the Chalet. He says to Fowler, "'Let’s go. We’ve had enough, haven’t we? This isn’t a bit suitable for [Phuong]'” (51).


In this chapter, Greene offers the reader greater insight into the beginnings of Pyle and Phuong’s romance. When they first meet, Pyle is very respectful and kind towards Phuong. He is drawn to her innocence and feels protective over her, and Fowler observes that “Pyle looks at [Fowler] as though [he] were another Granger” (44). From the moment Pyle meets Phuong, is clear that Pyle thinks Fowler is not good enough for her. When Pyle meets Miss Hei, she does not try to hide the fact that she feels the same way.

Pyle’s respectful treatment of both Phuong and Miss Hei is in contrast to the other male-female relationships in the novel thus far. Besides Pyle, all of Fowler's colleagues see Phuong as an object. Granger goes so far as to say, “Thank God for penicillin,” right in front of Phuong's face, as if she were a diseased animal (36). Like Vigot, Granger is immediately surprised that Phuong is not a prostitute. Additionally, Phuong rarely speaks for herself. Fowler often takes it upon himself to communicate on her behalf. However, even though both Fowler and Pyle are respectful towards Phuong and claim to love her, they objectify her as well. They each assume the duty of protecting her from the evils of the world and profess to know what is good for her. Meanwhile, Phuong's stoicism makes it difficult to discern whether or not she understands the implications of her role in both of these relationships.  

Miss Hei, on the other hand, is overtly strategic in her machinations. While Phuong's sister comes across as crass and opportunistic, she is simply being realistic about the limited options of women in this society. She and Phuong have no parents; the only way for them to escape Saigon is with the help of a foreigner with access to an exit visa. Meanwhile, the scene in the House of Five Hundred Girls presents a stark contrast to Phuong's chaste dances at the Chalet. Granger is obsessed with finding a woman to sleep with for the night; the name of the whorehouse is enough to show how the presence of foreign soldiers has denigrated these Vietnamese women. Once inside, Granger is able to get exactly what he wants simply because he is an American with deep pockets; several women immediately surround him and shower him with sexual attention. 

The scene at the House of Five Hundred Girls also reveals the extent of Pyle’s innocence. He is overwhelmed when he walks into the whorehouse; he has no idea how to act or respond to the women around him. By the time Fowler arrives to rescue him, Pyle has given away nearly all of his money without even engaging in romantic or sexual activity with any of the women there. It is important to note that Fowler can sense that Pyle will need rescuing. Throughout the novel, Fowler's years of experience on the ground will consistently triumph over Pyle's academically - fueled idealism. "It occurred to me that [Pyle] was quite possibly a virgin," Fowler thinks when he sees the anxious Pyle surrounded by eager prostitutes. Here, Pyle's sexual inexperience is a microcosmic representation of his simplistic worldview. After his experience at the whorehouse, Pyle sets his sights on Phuong because she represents innocence; he sees her as someone who needs saving. He wants to shield her from the overtly sexual performance of a troupe of female impersonators - even though Phuong probably has more sexual experience than Pyle does. Ultimately, Pyle's headstrong pursuit of Phuong is representative of the qualities that Fowler alludes to in the previous chapter, when he tells the American Economic Attache that Pyle died because he was "young and ignorant and silly" and "too innocent to live" (23). 

Lastly, this chapter sheds light on the propaganda war that obfuscated the realities of the Vietnam conflict. Granger’s description of the press conference, particularly regarding the French control over news exiting the country, raises many questions about the validity of the western mission in Vietnam. Granger, an American reporter with a reputation for bullish truth-seeking, has not even been to some of the places that he has written about in his articles; he seems to be fine with perpetrating the French agenda in the American media. He scoffs at the notion of honest reporting, saying “Do you think I’d really go near their stinking highway? Stephen Crane could describe a war without seeing one. Why shouldn’t I? It’s only a damned colonial war anyway” (38). Stephen Crane was an American novelist, best known for writing The Red Badge of CourageAlthough Crane's writing is his primary legacy, he was also infamous for his sexual adventures and love of drugs and alcohol. By alluding to Crane, Greene ties Granger into the unflattering archetype of badly-behaved American expatriates.