The Quiet American

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

Part Two, Chapter One


Pyle invites himself over to Fowler’s place for a drink, and Fowler knows that Pyle is visiting only to tell Phuong he loves her. When Fowler tells Phuong about Pyle’s imminent arrival, however, she leaves to go visit her sister. She has interpreted Pyle's aloof behavior during Fowler's absence as disinterest. Before she exiting, Phuong muses that Pyle probably wants to come over to discuss business with Fowler. Fowler inquires about what Phuong knows about Pyle’s business, and she replies, “People say he imports a great many things” (88). She relays a story about the First Secretary threatening to halt Pyle's imports because he was trying to bring too much plastic into the country. Fowler tries to ask Phuong why Pyle has such a great need for plastic, but she leaves without answering.

After Phuong's departure, Fowler begins writing a letter to his editor in England, in which he tries to explain that he will not make a good foreign editor. He writes that he is not an editor but a reporter and therefore has "no real opinions about anything” (89). He starts describing his personal motivations to remain in Vietnam, but then decides to delete that section. He realizes that everyone at his newspaper's London office knows that all foreign correspondents take lovers while they’re stationed abroad, and he doesn’t want to become the subject of his colleagues' sly jokes. As Fowler finishes his letter, he recalls the miserable images of his life in England. “I [can] see so well the kind of house that has no mercy,” he thinks to himself (89). Fowler’s pitiful reminiscence is interrupted by Pyle’s arrival. Pyle, dressed ridiculously in a Hawaiian shirt, has brought his large black dog with him. Fowler tells the facetious young American that he ought to hit him for his letter about Phuong, but Pyle snarkily advises him to refrain, saying, “I did boxing at college – and I’m so much younger” (91).

They ease into some small talk, and Fowler asks about the trouble with the plastics that Phuong mentioned. Pyle claims that the Americans are bringing in plastic to stimulate the Vietnamese economy, but the French halted the import because they want all of the products to be bought in France. Fowler is generally irritated by everything at that moment, including the presence of Pyle’s dog in his apartment. Fowler even mentions wishing that Pyle would die in the line of duty. Phuong comes home just as her two suitors have started discussing her. Pyle tries to speak to her in English, but Phuong is not comfortable speaking his language. In an almost comedic turn of events, Fowler becomes the de facto translator between them. Pyle tells Phuong that he loves her and wants to marry her, citing his potential wealth and his good health. Fowler translates truthfully but also makes his own case to Phuong, saying, “He’ll marry you. I can’t. You know why” (96). Even though he is honest in his translation, Fowler then tells Phuong a lie; he claims that he will not be leaving Vietnam. Fowler and Pyle start bickering over Phuong right in front of her, and Phuong finally stops them with one word: “No” (98).

Phuong eventually rebukes Pyle and decides to stay with Fowler. Fowler invites Pyle to stay for dinner, but Pyle declines, saying he prefers to be alone. Pyle tells Fowler that he will ask for a transfer after he finishes his tour in two years. After Pyle is gone, Fowler returns to his apartment and begins drafting a letter to his wife in which he asks her for a divorce. Even though he has to return to London, remaining in their marriage will only be a reminder of his failure. After finishing the letter, Fowler admits to Phuong that he has lied to her and that he must return home. She says that she will return to London with him. She wants to see the sights – like the skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty, which Fowler has to remind her are actually in America. 


This chapter highlights Phuong's helpless position both as a Vietnamese civilian and as a woman. Despite Pyle and Fowler's egotistical bickering, each man has the option to return to his (first-world) homeland if Phuong chooses the other. If Phuong decides to stay with Fowler, Pyle plans to escape his broken heart by asking for a transfer out of Saigon. Meanwhile, Fowler has already received news that his job requires him to return to England, where he is to take a promotion, no less. Both Fowler and Pyle have the luxury to act based on matters of the heart, but Phuong has no such privilege. Therefore, she interprets her suitors' actions at face value, believing their motivations to be as practical as her own. She thinks that Pyle is disrespectful because he did not visit while Fowler was away; when, in reality, Pyle wanted to address Fowler first. This shows that Phuong is basically a pawn in the power struggle between the two men - neither Fowler nor Pyle have considered her feelings since they left for Phat Diem. 

Furthermore, when Pyle professes his love for Phuong and asks her to marry him, Fowler has to translate for the American. This puts the power of communication between Pyle and Phuong in Fowler's hands, and Pyle keeps talking without waiting for Phuong's response. He simply assumes that Phuong will accept his proposal, just as he did when confronting Fowler in the previous section of the novel. Meanwhile, Fowler lies to Phuong and claims that he will be staying in Vietnam - likely because he wants to increase the chances that Phuong will reject Pyle to his face. Both men continually speak over Phuong. In fact, she does not utter a single word in the scene except for "No," which she exclaims only when the loud argument becomes too much for her to handle.

Finally, when Phuong "registers" her mistake at the end of the chapter, it has a double meaning. Not only does she realize that she has confused the landmarks of America and England, but she is beginning to think she may have made a mistake in choosing Fowler. She made the decision to stay with Fowler when she thought that he would be staying in Vietnam, but now she knows that he has lied to her. She also knows that Fowler has a wife at home in London, making her position there somewhat dubious. On the other hand, Pyle has nothing to hold him back from marrying her right away. Therefore, Phuong's innocent error foreshadows the fact that her decision to stay with Fowler does not turn out to be final. It also reveals her primary motivation for her choice is not love, but marriage - and Fowler's own Phuong is evidence enough that the two do not always go hand in hand. 

There are also elements of foreshadowing in Fowler and Pyle's various discussions about longevity, health, and death. First, Fowler admits that he wished death upon Pyle after he barged in on him in Phat Diem. Fowler even goes so far as to say that had Pyle died in an attack that day, it would have been "A hero's death," (67). Later in time but earlier in the novel, the American Economic Attache writes to Pyle's parents that he died "a soldier's death" (23). Additionally, the frank and heated exchange between Pyle and Fowler also casts doubt on Fowler's original assessment of their relationship. After Pyle's death, Fowler claims to have said, "Am I the only one who really cared for Pyle?" (14), but his anger and and irritation in this scene preclude any nascent fondness for the American. This contradiction once again calls into question Fowler's reliability as a narrator. 

Because of the non-linear structure of the novel, Greene uses the chronological past to foreshadow the reveal of information surrounding events that have temporally already occurred, even if the reader is not yet aware of them. By placing Fowler in the powerful position of narrator, Greene adds further intrigue to the narrative because Fowler is constantly moving back and forth in time, and the reader has access to both his internal and external monologue. Greene therefore uses relies on narrative technique to create suspense in what could be a straightforward exploration of one simple question: Did Thomas Fowler have anything to do with the death of Alden Pyle?