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The Quiet American

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Summary

Part Two, Chapter 1

Summary Part Two, Chapter 1

Summary

Some weeks have passed since Fowler returned to Saigon, and there are rumors about Pyle’s involvement in a secret operation. Word got out when a customs official accidentally opened a diplomatic parcel that was sent to Pyle and which contained plastic. Phuong informs Fowler of this gossip before leaving his apartment to visit her sister. After Phuong leaves, Fowler pens a letter to his editor asking to remain a reporter. He explains that the current state of affairs in Vietnam makes it a bad time to change correspondents.

There is a knock at the door, and it is Pyle and his dog Duke. Fowler invites them in, and he realizes that Pyle has come to talk about Phuong. Their conversation quickly turns tense, and Fowler asks Pyle about the plastic. Pyle evades the question and asks Fowler if he likes dogs. He then proceeds to tell Fowler that he named his first dog after the Black Prince, a popular nickname for Edward of Woodstock, who became the first Duke of Cornwall in 1337. Fowler reminds Pyle that the Black Prince led the Siege of Limoges, killing many women and children. Fowler savors the pain that this reminder causes his guest

Phuong returns home, interrupting the men’s conversation. Since her English and Pyle’s French are equally poor, Fowler acts as a translator, explaining to Phuong that Pyle has fallen in love with her and that he wants to marry her. Pyle insists that Fowler should not use overwrought clichés in his translation so as not to goad her into an emotional response. As Pyle considers what to say next, Fowler asks her what she thinks and claims that neither man can promise to stay with her forever. Pyle then tells Phuong that he has a net worth of fifty thousand dollars and certification of his good health. Fowler makes fun of Pyle’s pragmatic details, but the American pushes through the tension and again asks Phuong to marry him. She says no. Sobered by her response, Pyle and his dog take their leave.

Once Pyle is gone, Fowler writes a letter to Helen, his wife back in England. He informs her that he will be returning to start a new job. Though acknowledging that he had married her with the promise of never divorcing, he nevertheless asks her for a divorce. After writing the letter, Fowler tells Phuong that he wants to marry her and that he has asked his wife for a divorce. He also admits that he has been ordered to go back to England. Optimistic about the possibility that Helen might grant him a divorce, Phuong tells Fowler that she will come with him to London. However, she confuses England with America; she asks Fowler if there are skyscrapers in London, and she proclaims her excitement about seeing the Statue of Liberty.

Analysis

This chapter clearly demonstrates how the relationship between Pyle and Fowler works by way of a tension between sincerity and irony. One way the chapter demonstrates this tension is by foregrounding the absurdity of Pyle’s proposal to Phuong. He wants to marry her, but he cannot communicate with her. Instead, his rival must act as his interpreter. The irony of this situation appears to be lost on Pyle, who in his desire to be fair wants Fowler to hear everything he wishes to tell Phuong. Fowler indicates his awareness of the situation’s absurdity when, after translating Pyle’s solemn and poetic declaration of love, he asks the American if he should “add a little fire” to his speechPyle misses the joke, and in his seriousness requests Fowler to translate his words straight so as not to persuade Phuong with rhetoric. Even more pointed is the joke Fowler makes when Pyle attempts to convince Phuong of his eligibility by promising to provide documentation of his good health and blood type. Fowler implies that Pyle’s American pragmatism is profoundly unromantic. Nevertheless, Pyle presses on.

The persistence of Fowler’s use of irony indicates a dark side to his personality, and it specifically suggests that Fowler desires to make Pyle feel as helpless and unable to act as he himself feels. When Fowler draws attention to the fact that the Black Prince was not an admirable historical figure but a villain and a murderer, Pyle feels ashamed that he did not know about the man’s dark side. But Fowler is not clearly not interested in simply being informative. Indeed, he relishes seeing the look of disappointment on Pyle’s face. Fowler wants to quash Pyle’s romanticism and his naïve adherence to whatever information he finds in books. This is why Fowler connects this history lesson about the Black Prince to a memory of when he pointed out in one of York Harding’s books, an event that challenged Pyle’s belief in Harding’s infallibility. Fowler enjoys these moments of cruelty, and in humiliating Pyle he may be seeking to justify his own more pessimistic perspective.