The Quiet American

The Quiet American Summary and Analysis of Part Three, Chapter 1

Part Three, Chapter 1


Almost a fortnight after Pyle's death, Fowler sees Vigot again at Le Club, a popular watering hole for members of the Sûreté. Vigot brings up the subject of Pyle's death and voices his belief that Fowler must have some opinions. Vigot then admits that they have not yet concluded the investigation into Pyle's demise because the American Minister wants more answers. Vigot reveals to Fowler that he found Pyle's dog with its throat slit not too far from where Pyle's body was deposited. Vigot asks Fowler when he last saw Pyle's dog, and Fowler does not answer. Vigot, not giving up, sets up a time to visit Fowler at his home. As he leaves, he looks at Fowler "as he might have looked at some prisoner for whose capture he was responsible undergoing his sentence for life" (183). 

The second portion of the chapter flashes back to before Pyle was killed, right after he and Fowler have argued over Phuong. After the revelation that he has to return to England, Fowler believes that Phuong is punishing him - he no longer can predict if she will be in the apartment when he returns home. He becomes increasingly jealous and starts asking asking her where she has been and whom she has seen. Fowler is paranoid that Phuong is having secret trysts with Pyle at her sister's house. One night, Dominguez leaves a note for Fowler, instructing him to meet with Mr. Chou the next morning. Fowler finds Mr. Heng, Mr. Chou's agent, waiting for him instead. They stand together as the police rush towards a store, from which they remove three bicycles. They place the bicycles in a fountain, and Fowler becomes increasingly confused. Mr. Heng tells Fowler to wait and see, and suddenly the bicycles explode and the fountain crumbles. Nobody is hurt, but Fowler learns that this is only one of many bicycle bombings that have occurred in the city that day at exactly 11 a.m. Mr. Heng and Fowler examine the rubble; the exploding bike pump looks remarkably similar to the mould that Mr. Heng showed Fowler in Mr. Chou's warehouse.

The next morning, Fowler writes an article condemning General Thé for 'Operation Bicycle,' but his article is adjusted before going to print - the revised version dismisses the synchronized attacks as a trivial affair. His fellow journalists blame the Communists, though, and their versions dominate the headlines. Nevertheless, Fowler decides to explore Mr. Muoi's garage. He does not find the drum or mould, but he does find remnants of a white power, probably Diolacton. When Fowler returns home, Phuong is not there. He goes to sleep, thinking that she must be with her sister, but when he awakens in the middle of the night, she is still not home. He looks around the flat and realizes she has taken all of her things. Phuong is gone.

The next day, Fowler decides to visit Pyle at the American Legation, but Pyle is not there. Fowler instead speaks with the American Economic Attaché, Joe, and expresses the disgust and frustration he feels towards Pyle. Joe tries to placate Fowler, but Fowler does not care that he is making a scene. He eventually leaves Joe's office and cries in the men's bathroom. Fowler leaves his journalistic business in Dominguez's hands and heads back north to see more of the war. The orders from Hanoi only allow journalists to accompany soldiers on horizontal raids, which are supposedly safe and indeed, Fowler finds the whole operation to be very scheduled and orderly. However, Fowler happens to be sharing a drink with a pilot, Captain Trouin, when he is called for a raid. Trouin invites Fowler to join him. On the way to the to the airport, Trouin admits to Fowler they are going on a vertical raid, and he can come along only if promises not to write about it. The plane dives over and over again, dropping bombs and then coming back up, which leaves Fowler constantly on the verge of vomiting. Despite his discomfort, Fowler witnesses the violence and destruction as the bombs flatten the village below.

When they return back to the base, Fowler asks Trouin if he feels guilty about bombing entire villages. Trouin responds that vertical raids are hardly the worst tasks he has been asked to carry out. He particularly hates napalm - the pilots are safe at 3,000 feet while the people on the ground burn alive. Fowler tries to convince the pilot that he has no emotional investment in the war, but Trouin wisely replies, "One day something will happen. You will take a side" (200). Their conversation ends when Fowler decides to take a prostitute up to his room. He is unable to have sex with her because of his feelings for Phuong, but he blames his inability to perform on the opium he has smoked.


This chapter is the first time Greene offers a detailed and unedited account of the war from a Western soldier on the ground. The soldiers that Fowler shadows during his previous excursion to the north barely speak, and it is difficult for Fowler to interpret their muted reactions to the death that surrounds them. Fowler's conversation with Captain Trouin, however, introduces the soldier's perspective into the novel as a counterpoint to Pyle's idealism and Fowler's supposed neutrality. Trouin is aware of his actions and the damage that they cause, and he has a deep antipathy for dropping napalm on Vietnamese civilians. However, he has rationalizes these acts of war by imagining his opponents to be equally powerful, claiming that his enemies in the bush present a real threat to his fighter jet. It is clear that he is performing these mental calculations for his own benefit, though, because the fight between the Viet Minh and the Western powers has never been "fair" in terms of finances, weaponry, or manpower.

Though he is only in Fowler's life for a short time, Captain Trouin affects the journalist deeply and begins to shake his confirmed impartiality. Captain Trouin tells Fowler that the war is "not a matter of reason or justice. We all get involved in a moment of emotion, and then we cannot get out" (201). Fowler discovers the truth in Trouin's words during the vertical raid, which is emotionally and physically draining him. He is appalled by the senseless violence and loss of life that he witnesses. At this point, however, Fowler still does not believe that he will take sides, but Captain Trouin's words stay with him for the remainder of the novel.

Even though Fowler does not express his political opinion in this chapter, he once again laments the futility of war. His observations during the vertical strike reveal his frustration with the brutality of the French mission - he does not understand why Trouin continues to dive and shoot on the tenth drive. "We didn't even wait to see our victims struggling to survive, but climbed and made for home. I thought again, as I had thought when I saw the dead child at Phat Diem, I hate war," he thinks (198). Fowler decries the impartiality of the violence. He reflects on a strike that happens on their return trip: "There had been something so shocking in our sudden fortuitous choice of prey - we had just happened to be passing; one burst only was required; there was no one to return our fire; we were gone again, adding our little quota to the world's dead" (198). 

As Fowler's wartime experiences become tinged with emotion, he is simultaneously becoming despondent over the dissolution of his relationship with Phuong. His attempt to confront Pyle at his office casts doubt on the alibi Fowler gave to Vigot right after Pyle's death. Because Fowler is the only narrator, the reader must be responsible for exercising a critical eye towards the source of information. Here, Greene reveals the extent of Fowler's emotional distress about losing Phuong to Pyle, which casts even more doubt on his original interview with Vigot. The reader must ask him or herself here if Fowler is trustworthy and consider any other possible clues that he may be lying. 

Fowler's visceral reaction to the loss of Phuong is inconsistent with his earlier insistence that Phuong is merely a presence in his bed, someone warm to sleep next to at night. He has not shown much emotion prior to this point in the novel, and so his outburst illuminates some deeper feelings that Fowler himself may not yet understand. However, it is also possible that Fowler is only reacting to his fear of being lonely. He has been open and honest about how he despises being lonely, and he has alluded to ending previous relationships because he was afraid of losing love. Fowler has a tendency to be self destructive in his romantic relationships, and this chapter indicates that this emotional volatility may extend to his otherwise measured decision-making process, as well.