The Quiet American

  • Study Guide
Summary

Part Two, Chapter 2, Sections I–III

Summary Part Two, Chapter 2, Sections I–III

Summary

Members of the government and the diplomatic corps travel the eighty kilometers from Saigon to Tanyin to attend an annual festival at the center of Caodaism, a monotheistic religion that synthesizes Buddhism, Christianity, and Confucianism. Travelers must pass through enemy territory to get there and must return to Saigon by the 7 p.m. curfew. After a parade, Fowler interviews a high-ranking official’s deputy about General Thé, a militant who is in hiding on a mountain near Tanyin. The deputy responds only that Thé is a rash man before going on to give a speech on Caodaism’s origins and influence. Fowler finds the man’s lip service to Caodaism as phony and corrupt as his own pretended respect for the religion.The deputy’s parting words to Fowler are, “In the Caodaist faith all truths are reconciled and truth is love

Fowler leaves the deputy and finds Pyle trying and failing to start his Buick. They dispatch a Caodaist commanding officer to summon a mechanic. Pyle comments on how the French have not yet learned how best to treat “these people” (presumably referring to the Caodaists, but perhaps meaning all Vietnamese). When Fowler protests that the French don’t trust them, Pyle retorts, “A man becomes trustworthy when you trust him which sounds to Fowler like a Caodaist maxim.

Fowler leaves, promising to find Pyle before he departs from Tanyin. He goes into the cathedral and studies the mixture of Buddhist, Christian, and Confucian ornamentation. He reflects on his wife’s faith and his own lack of desire for faith. He imagines that Helen has received his letter, even though she has not yet written back.

Fowler returns to Pyle, who is still waiting for the mechanic. He offers to give the American a ride and arranges for the car to be fixed and brought to Saigon the following day. The two men set out from Tanyin. Pyle asks about Phuong. He also mentions that he saw her sister while shopping the previous day and that she said Fowler was planning to leave Vietnam. Fowler says it is just a rumor. Pyle then informs Fowler that he has applied for a transfer and thinks he will be reassigned in six months’ time.

The car splutters to a halt. Fowler thinks that someone in Tanyin must have siphoned out the gas. They are now in enemy territory, and the car barely makes it to one of the watchtowers positioned along the road. Fowler calls up, hoping that the guards will have extra fuel, but no one responds. With darkness falling quickly, he tells Pyle to wait while he climbs up the tower. As Fowler climbs the ladder, he feels nearly paralyzed with fear.

Fowler finds two young Vietnamese men in the watchtower who appear to be as terrified as he is. He asks them if they have any gasoline he could purchase, but they have none. Pyle climbs up the ladder, and Fowler tells him that they are welcome to stay. Pyle is afraid that the Vietnamese guards are too experienced to defend the tower, but Fowler explains that they are just afraid of an attack. Making fun of Pyle’s beloved York Harding, Fowler also implies that these men have no idea that they are fighting against communism and for democracy. These are “mental concepts,” Fowler says, and hence they don’t really exist. Pyle replies that Fowler must have mental concepts of his own, that he must believe in something. Fowler says that he only believes in the reality of their present situation.