The Quiet American

  • Study Guide
Summary

Part One, Chapter 2

Summary Part One, Chapter 2

Summary

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.