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Fowler’s narrative returns to the moment when he and Pyle first met, at the Continental Hotel. In their first conversation, Pyle asks Fowler if he has read the work of an American scholar, York Harding. Fowler admits that he has not, and he makes a joke about Pyle’s apparent reliance on two-year-old books instead of local intelligence. Pyle picks up on Fowler’s irony and asks his companion to brief him on Vietnam’s current political situation. Fowler explains that the French still control the northern territory and that the militant leader General Thé has fled to the hills to fight against both the French forces and the communists. In response, Pyle cites York’s thesis that the region needs a Third Force to turn the tide.
Fowler leaves the Continental to take his daily stroll along the rue Catinat, thinking that Pyle would have to learn about the region and its people through his own experience. Fowler also thinks about his own first days in Vietnam, and about how much he has grown accustomed to living there.
In the second section of 2, the narrative returns to the day after Pyle was discovered dead. Fowler suggests to Phuong that she should come stay with him, and she agrees. Fowler accompanies her to Pyle’s apartment to gather her belongings. The police are searching the apartment, and when they prevent Phuong from entering, Fowler goes in instead. Inside he finds Vigot, and the two men exchange theories about who might have killed Pyle and why. Vigot admits, though, that he is not very concerned about identifying who killed Pyle, as this is a war and people die by the thousands.
After helping Fowler collect Phuong’s belongings, Vigot once again asks Fowler for information. Fowler insists that Pyle said nothing to him when they last spoke, which was the previous morning, just after “the big bang.” Forcing the issue, Vigot obliquely threatens Fowler, implying that the French could easily deny him an exit visa. The threat rings hollow, however, and Fowler tells Vigot that he has no desire to return to England.
The arrival of the overweigh and ill-kempt American economic attaché, Joe, interrupts their conversation. The attaché is upset by Pyle’s death, and he mentions that he sent Pyle’s family a cable to notify them that their son had had died “a soldier’s death.” Fowler makes an ironic comment about an economic aid worker dying the death of a soldier, and the attaché admits that Pyle “had special duties.”
When the attaché presses him for further information, Fowler suddenly becomes angry and says that Pyle had been killed because he was naïve but still got involved. The attaché feels offended by the outburst, but Fowler reminds him about Pyle’s indiscretions with Phuong. The attaché affirms that Pyle’s affair was in poor taste. Fowler tells him that Vigot is inside and walks away.
Chapter 2 establishes the general pattern of Fowler’s narrative, which frequently moves backward and forward in time. This oscillation between the novel’s past and present events creates a kind of counterpoint, one that slowly reveals to the reader why Fowler harbors such bitter feelings toward Pyle. This method of storytelling can create confusion for the reader, as when characters reference events that the reader does not yet understand. Take, for example, when Fowler refers to “the big bang,” or when the economic attaché refers to Pyle’s “special duties.” However, these covert references also entice the reader onward, creating a sense of tension through the technique of foreshadowing. This tension characterizes the whole of The Quiet American, the story a sense of mystery.
Aside from his impression of Pyle as innocent, Fowler also notes that the American is very serious Fowler means this in two senses. First, Pyle’s reading habits are serious. Pyle has a deep respect for serious writers, by which he means politically engaged writers like York Harding. This point about serious reading foreshadows the scene in the second section of 2, when Fowler examines Pyle’s library and notes a lack of recreational reading materials. The fact that Pyle owned a manual on The Physiology of Marriage suggests that he approached topics like love from a serious, even scholarly perspective. Second, Pyle has a serious temperament that proves markedly American. When Pyle explains his preference for serious writers, Fowler jokingly draws attention to the difference between abstract knowledge and actual experience. Pyle notices Fowler’s irony, but instead of laughing at himself, he only becomes more serious and excessively polite. The American economic attaché proves similarly resistant to irony. When he says that Pyle died “a soldier’s death,” Fowler points out the inaptness of the comparison with another ironic joke. The attaché misses the joke. Fowler bursts into a tirade that implicitly chastises both Pyle and the attaché for their characteristically American seriousness.
In addition to illuminating important aspects of Pyle’s personality, 2 also introduces Fowler’s desire to remain disinterested, a neutral observer. Whereas Pyle is eager to be fully in the world, Fowler wishes to remain disengaged. Fowler sees disengagement as an essential aspect of his profession as a reporter. That is, he sees himself as one who communicates facts rather than opinions, objective truths rather than subjective judgments. Even more importantly, as a reporter he does not take action or attempt to effect change. This represents another significant difference from Pyle, who has come to Vietnam for the express purpose of interfering with Vietnamese politics. The tension between Pyle’s eagerness to engage and Fowler’s reluctance to do so fuels the story, particularly as Fowler gradually learns the impossibility of remaining neutral in such a charged time and place.