The Quiet American

The Quiet American Metaphors and Similes

Phoenix (Metaphor)

"'Phuong,' I said -- which means Phoenix, but nothing nowadays is fabulous and nothing rises from its ashes" (3). Here, Fowler refers to the contradiction of Phuong's name and uses it as a metaphor for the hopelessness of war. A phoenix is a mythical bird that is reborn by rising anew from the ashes of its predecessor. However, Fowler is insinuating that war causes a great amount of destruction, as well, but unlike the phoenix - nothing good comes out of it. 

Herb (Simile)

"She was indigenous like an herb, and I never wanted to go home" (7). Here, Fowler compares Phuong to a plant in the ground - meaning that she has no choice about where she has grown up. However, Fowler is much more transient - he is not indigenous but Vietnam feels like home to him because that is where Phuong is. 

Teacher and Pupil (Simile)

"I began, while [Pyle] watched me intently like a prize pupil" (16). Fowler often alludes to his wisdom and experience over Pyle, and by comparing him to a prize pupil here, Fowler insinuates that Pyle, although eager, still has a lot to learn. This simile foreshadows the fact that Fowler is the one who teaches Pyle his ultimate lesson. 

Hooked Fish (Simile)

"Then I got hold of Pyle's sleeve and dragged him out, with the girl hanging on to his other arm like a hooked fish" (30).  This comparison reveals the unfortunate role of Vietnamese women during wartime in Saigon. American men were like bait to them - they represented wealth and prosperity - and these women came to rely on these resources to help lift themselves out of war-ravaged poverty.

Panoramic Photograph (Simile)

"From the bell tower of the Cathedral, the battle was only picturesque, fixed like a panorama of the Boer War in an old Illustrated London News" (38).

Fowler has been a foreign correspondent for many years, so he is fully aware that the media depictions of battle do not reflect the reality of what is happening on the ground; the innocents lying dead in hidden rivers are the ones who have paid the dearest price, but nobody wants to report on them because it makes the whole war look bad. Meanwhile, the Boer War refers to the series of conflicts that led to the British annexation of South Africa in the early 20th century. By mentioning the Boer War, Fowler draws attention to the similarities between Britain's colonialist motivations back then and the European and American presence in Vietnam.