The Quiet American

The Quiet American Irony

Fowler's Guilt (Verbal Irony)

After finding out about Pyle's death, Phuong spends the night with Fowler, and Fowler wakes in the middle of the night to find his hand between her legs. He wonders, "Am I the only one who really cared for Pyle?" (19). This line is ironic because Fowler is the one who caused Pyle's death and has also benefited from it because he now has Phuong back. Here, Greene uses verbal irony to hint at Fowler's guilt about helping to arrange Pyle's murder. 

Additionally, at the beginning of the novel, Fowler sarcastically tells Vigot to look at Pyle's dog's paws for evidence in his murder investigation. Both men laugh off this suggestion, essentially dismissing it. However, Vigot later finds the body of Pyle's dog and does exactly what Fowler had suggested - and ends up finding evidence that leads him to Fowler. Even though Vigot cannot totally prove his accusations, it is possible that Fowler's sarcastic suggestion was a result of his subconscious desire to confess. 

Non-Linear Narrative (Dramatic Irony)

Like many mysteries, The Quiet American often relies on dramatic irony to create suspense. Because of the non-linear narrative, the characters in the novel often know less than the reader at any given point. For example, the reader learns in the first chapter of the novel that Pyle is dead and that Vigot suspects Fowler in his murder. This knowledge propels the reader's interest throughout the flashbacks, as we search the earlier interactions between Pyle and Fowler for possible motivations or clues. 

Pyle's Innocence (Situational and Verbal Irony)

Pyle always wants to protect Phuong's innocence; when a sexually explicit dance performance disturbs him, he tells Fowler: "'Let’s go. We’ve had enough, haven’t we? This isn’t a bit suitable for [Phuong]'” (51). However, Pyle's desire to protect Phuong from harm becomes ironic when Fowler points out that Pyle is responsible for the death of many nameless Vietnamese civilians. "Go home to Phuong and tell her about your heroic dead -- there are a few dozen less of her people to worry about!" Fowler shouts at Pyle. 

Later (temporally, but earlier in the novel), Fowler comments to the American Economic Attache that Pyle died because he was "young and ignorant and silly" and "too innocent to live" (23).  We later discover that the main reason for Pyle's death was that he was too cavalier when it came to taking the lives of innocents. However, the irony is that Pyle's maintenance of his innocence is what actually led him to commit these terrible actions - he felt that by keeping Phuong safe, he was protecting innocence and therefore, justified the slaughter of other civilians.