Part Two, Chapter 3:
Fowler returns to his apartment after receiving treatment for his leg injury. His leg is not fully healed, but he is able to walk with the assistance of a cane. He is unsure if Phuong is still in his apartment because he did not receive word from her while he was in the hospital, but he dismisses her silence as a symptom of their language barrier. When Fowler knocks on the door, Phuong answers and it is as if nothing has changed. He sits down and she tells him what she has been doing in his absence. While Phuong is describing the plot of a movie she has seen, Fowler interrupts her to ask if a telegram has come for him. She responds affirmatively.
Fowler hopes that the telegram will contain a response from his wife, but instead, the telegram contains an assignment from his editor. He questions Phuong further, and Phuong mentions that a letter has also arrived in the mail. This one turns out to be from Fowler's wife. He asks Phuong to make him a brandy and soda and then starts to read the letter, which is long winded and slow to answer Fowler's proposal for a divorce. It is also skillfully worded to evoke as much pain as possible, but it is clear that the process of writing this letter has also reopened Fowler's wife's old wounds.
In the letter, Fowler's wife reminds him about how he left Anne, one of his former lovers, accusing Fowler of being only temporarily available. Therefore, she says, she cannot consent to a divorce out of concern for Phuong. She suspects that Fowler will only leave Phuong for another woman after bringing her to England anyway. Despite all of these extended explanations, she ends the letter simply: "What's the good of arguing with you, or trying to make you see reason? It's easier to act as my faith tells me to act - as you think unreasonably - and simply to write: I don't believe in divorce; my religion forbids it; and so the answer, Thomas, is no - no" (154).
After reading the letter, Fowler lies to Phuong and tells her that his wife is still making up her mind. "There's still hope," he says (155). Fowler smokes four opium pipes as he considers what he will say to Pyle. He decides to lie to Pyle, as well, writing, "I've got something else to celebrate, and I know you will be glad of this too, for you've always said that Phuong's interests were what we both wanted. I found a letter from my wife waiting when I got back, and she's more or less agreed to divorce me" (156). He has Phuong post the letter and sits back back in a relaxed state. He is relieved to know that Phuong will not leave him before he goes back to England.
Fowler's trusty Indian assistant, Dominguez, has access to an excellent intelligence structure and is well-respected within the different fighting factions. One day, Dominguez informs Fowler that he recently heard Pyle speaking at a diplomatic gathering, telling a group of visiting American congressmen that England and France were the "old colonial powers" and that it was time for America to come into Vietnam "with clean hands," to which Pyle simply responds: "Hawaii, Puerto Rico, New Mexico" (115). Fowler recognizes the ideas of York Harding in Pyle's claim that only a "Third Force" would be able to free Vietnam from both Communism and colonialism. Dominguez then tells Fowler that he has heard from Mr. Chou, one of his contacts, that Pyle has discovered his "Third Force," and urges Fowler to act quickly.
Fowler leaves immediately to find Mr. Chou. When he finally finds him, Mr. Chou does not appear to be altogether lucid, so Mr. Chou's manager helps to fill in the gaps in conversation. They lead Fowler to the basement of Mr. Chou's scrap-metal warehouse to show him a small iron drum which came from the garage of Mr. Phan-Van-Muoi, a relative of General Thé. Mr. Chou shows Fowler the contents of the drum: a mould and some tin emblazoned with the word "Diolacton," an American trade name. Mr. Chou explains that someone accidentally disposed of the tin and mould, which turned up at Mr. Chou's warehouse. After realizing their mistake, the manager for a man named Mr. Muoi came to the warehouse to retrieve the iron drum. Soon after leaving, Mr. Muoi's manager called the American Legation and asked for Mr. Pyle. Fowler realizes the tenuous connection between Pyle and General Thé, but he says there is nothing to write about. Mr. Chou and his manager reply by saying they only want him to remember what he has seen, and when he does write about it, to not mention that he saw the drum or the mould at this warehouse.
Soon, Pyle comes knocking at Fowler's door. Fowler tries to avoid him, but Pyle will not stop knocking. When Fowler eventually rises and hobbles to the door, he finds Phuong and Pyle standing in the passage, just parting from a kiss. Pyle is outraged because he has found that Fowler lied to him and to Phuong about his wife agreeing to a divorce. He explains that he found out because Phuong's sister is now working for the Joe, the American Economic Attaché. Phuong apparently asked her sister to read Fowler's wife's letter, lifting the deception that Fowler had laid. They continue to fight over Phuong as she retreats to the bedroom to look at a picture book. Pyle believes that he loves Phuong more than Fowler does and that he can give her everything she wants or needs, like a child. Fowler insists that Phuong is an independent person who is capable of choosing between the two of them by herself. He yells at Pyle to "Go away. Go to your Third Force and York Harding and the Role of Democracy. Go away and play with plastics."
Throughout the novel, it is clear that Fowler is a complicated character - he is deeply affected by the tragic scenes on the battlefield, but he is also willing to manipulate the people in his life in order to get what he wants. We see this manipulation most clearly in his interactions with Phuong, whom he lies to in order to keep in his life just long enough until he has to return to England. The letter from Fowler's wife aptly articulates this phenomenon when she writes, "You say that we've always tried to tell the truth to each other, but, Thomas, your truth is always so temporary" (154).
At times Fowler is sincere, but he often lacks the foresight to see his truths and confessions through - he lives in the moment and does as he pleases, disregarding the potential effects his actions have on others.It is interesting to consider whether or not Fowler's tendency towards deception is influenced by the opium pipes he frequently smokes. He is most prone to actually lying when he is high, but he is still capable of thinking about it and planning his deception when he is sober.
Meanwhile, Pyle once again provides a contrast to Fowler's "temporary" way of living. He is steadfast in his love for Phuong, but he lacks the experience and maturity to fully understand what that means. He frequently says that he wants to protect Phuong, but he is fearful of letting her make her own decisions. He does not realize that she is much more aware of what is happening around her than he gives her credit for. Certainly, Pyle has a very simplistic view of the world. He sees thing as right or wrong, black or white, when in actuality the world around him is filled with nuance.
When Fowler becomes reengaged with his work, the novel foreshadows Pyle's mysterious demise, which we already know is coming. There is a tenuous relationship between Pyle and General Thé, whom Fowler's assistant Dominguez believes Pyle thinks is the Third Force. The details are still murky - purpose of the mysterious mould is unclear and Pyle's involvement is hard to determine, but it is clear that he is not telling Fowler the whole truth about his reasons for being in Vietnam. The reader must also recall the American Economic Attaché's brief concern in the first chapter that Pyle may have revealed hidden details about his job description.
The introduction of the Third Force into the novel forces Fowler to engage with his job as a reporter. If he wants to take a more active role in determining Pyle's relationship to the iron tins and the mould, he will have to be more prone to forming opinions. He can no longer afford to be ambivalent if he wants to learn more.