“From childhood I had never believed in permanence, and yet I had longed for it. Always I was afraid of losing happiness. This month, next year, Phuong would leave me. If not next year, in three years. Death was the only absolute value in my world. Lose life and one would lose nothing again for ever
Fowler makes this confession to the reader while watching Pyle and Phuong dance at the Chalet on the evening they first meet (art ne, hapter 3). This declaration of a fundamental belief in impermanence represents Fowler’s deepest personal philosophy. In its most abstract sense, Fowler’s belief in the impermanence of all things seems closely related to a similar idea in Buddhism, which also emphasizes that all living things are susceptible to aging and death. However, whereas Buddhism offers the possibility of escaping the pain these processes through the practice of nonattachment, Fowler sees no escape to suffering. Indeed, despite frequently telling Pyle that he does not feel attached to Phuong, Fowler depends a great deal on the sense of companionship that Phuong provides him. Because of this attachment, and in contrast to the Buddhist ideal of enlightenment, Fowler prioritizes death as the event that will relieve him of suffering. Death brings an end to all loss, and this is why Fowler calls it “the only absolute value in my world.” Importantly, Fowler’s understanding of death as an absolute end is a product of his atheism.
Aside from its abstract meaning, Fowler’s philosophy also reveals something important about character. For one thing, this philosophy may represent the kernel of Fowler’s cynicism. His belief that all things are impermanent casts doubt on everything and everyone, for he knows that appearances deceive. For another thing, Fowler’s philosophy also expresses a profound fear of solitude. Indeed, it may be the case that this fear of solitude motivates Fowler’s animosity toward Pyle even more than his personal distaste for American politics and society. Fowler suggests as much when he attempts to reveal to Pyle his fear of dying alone during their conversation in the watchtower on the road between Saigon and Tanyin. Fowler confesses that his greatest wish is to have companionship during his final years and that he would prefer loveless intimacy to solitude. Although Pyle misunderstands his point, Fowler is attempting to explain why the idea of losing Phuong causes him to suffer.