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As their conversation continues, Fowler insists that average Vietnamese peasants are not concerned about defeating communism or helping democracy triumph. Instead, they want to ensure their own health and safety. Pyle retorts that Fowler should be more upset by French colonialism. According to Fowler, however, more dangerous than colonialism is liberalism, which he believes has infected all party politics with the desire to maintain a healthy conscience, regardless of the trouble that it causes. Pyle tells Fowler that he is as much of an intellectual as Harding, as evidenced by his concern with the importance of the individual Fowler refutes Pyle once again, claiming that the only person who treats a Vietnamese peasant in a paddy field like an individual is the local commissar (a communist party official).
As the night wears on, Pyle becomes cold and Fowler goes back to the car to retrieve a blanket. After he retrieves the blanket from the trunk of the car, there’s an explosion in the distance along with far-off screams. When Fowler returns to the tower and reaches the top of the ladder, he finds both Pyle and one of the guards looking at a Sten (a type of submachine gun) that is lying between them. Pyle tells Fowler that he doesn’t trust the guards. Soon thereafter, a patrol vehicle drives by. Pyle suggest flagging it down on its return pass, but there is a sudden explosion nearby that Fowler thinks might be a mine. The patrol doesn’t come back.
Fowler closes his eyes and imagines being somewhere else. He thinks about Phuong preparing his opium pipe and wonders if his wife has sent a response to his letter yet. To distract himself from the slow passing of time, Fowler asks Pyle what he’s thinking about. Pyle says he’s thinking about Phuong and what she might be doing. Fowler explains that she must have realized that he is staying the night in Tanyin, and he guesses that she is in his apartment reading Paris Match, a weekly French news magazine. Pyle asks Fowler where he met Phuong, and he explains that he met her when she danced at the Grand Monde. Pyle becomes distraught at this information, and Fowler clarifies that dancing is a respectable profession; Phuong was not a prostitute.
Pyle admits that he’s had little experience with women, and he asks Fowler what his deepest sexual experience was. describes watching a woman in a red dressing gown brush her hair in the early morning. When if this woman was Phuong, Fowler admits that she was a woman he had been with after he left his wife. Fowler tells Pyle that he was afraid of losing love, but now he simply fears losing Phuong. Pyle asks if Phuong loves him, but Fowler assures him that the Vietnamese don’t love in the same way
Pyle returns to their previous conversation, exclaiming that he is not a virgin. Fowler responds that a man can sleep with many women and still be a virgin. Pyle doesn’t understand what he means, and Fowler doesn’t explain. Instead, he tells Pyle that he no longer feels concerned with sex so much as old age and death. What he wants is not to be alone in his final decade, and he insists that he prefers loveless companionship to solitude. Pyle continues to see Fowler’s perspective as insulting to Phuong.
A loud noise from a megaphone interrupts the men’s conversation, and a voice calls out in Vietnamese. The voice seems to be telling the guards to give up the Europeans (Fowler thinks they were identified by his car). Afraid that one of the guards will shoot them, Pyle takes the Sten and covers Fowler, who climbs down from the watchtower. Fowler stops halfway down the ladder when he feels it move, as if someone is climbing up the ladder. In his fear, he imagines not a man but an animal climbing stealthily. Fowler jumps to the ground and twists his ankle. He then hears Pyle climbing down the ladder and realizes that he had caused the movement. Suddenly, a bazooka shell bursts. The tower explodes, and the blast throws Fowler .
The debate that Pyle and Fowler have about regional politics in this chapter . Pyle continues to think in terms of abstract political forces: communism, colonialism, and a Third Force that might intercede to bring democracy to Vietnam. Fowler rejects Pyle’s simplified view of the region as overly dogmatic. Fowler uses the notion of liberalism to focus his argument. Liberalism is a political philosophy founded on a belief in progress and standing for the protection of individuals’ political and civil liberties. Fowler chastises liberalism for failing to live up to its own ideals. Also damning is the way in which liberal politicians use their ideals to justify intervening in others’ affairs. In castigating liberalism, Fowler criticizes the of American politics. Fowler also implicitly attacks Pyle, who meddled in Fowler’s relationship with Phuong but still wanted to convince himself that this act was not “mean.” In short, Fowler uses the concept of liberalism to illustrate how the political is personal.
After dismissing liberalism, Fowler critiques another hallmark of American democracy: the autonomy of the individual. Fowler resists Pyle’s attempt to get him to admit that he believes in this abstract concept, and he demonstrates once again how important it is to acknowledge concrete reality. He takes a Vietnamese peasant who works in a paddy field as his example. An abstract notion of individual autonomy would entitle this peasant to be treated with dignity and respect. However, Fowler points out that the American and European forces that wish to bring liberal democracy to the region do not treat peasants like individuals with individual rights. Instead, they use peasants as anonymous pawns in a larger political strategy. For all of the outcry against communism, it is in fact communist officials who treat peasants with the greatest respect as individuals. In this sense, communism proves truer to the spirit of liberalism than democracy.
Fowler’s arguments are entirely lost on Pyle, but they do showcase an important irony in Fowler’s character. By this point in the novel, it is clear that Fowler prides himself on his faith in facts, not judgments. In this scene, Fowler engages Pyle for the sake of argument and to prove a point about the faultiness of intellectual abstraction. Despite his façade of neutrality, however, the subtlety and passion that Fowler demonstrates in refuting Pyle’s politics indicate just how opinionated he is. Pyle’s point that Fowler is as much of an intellectual as York Harding is therefore apt. The irony to which Pyle draws attention is largely lost on Fowler until the end of the scene, when he leaps from the ladder after imagining that an animal has jumped onto it. Once he realizes that Pyle caused the ladder to shake, Fowler calls his status as an “unimaginative” reporter into question. Fowler’s self-questioning suggests a brief awareness that he is less objective than he thinks.
Sexuality and love are the last major subjects of Fowler and Pyle’s conversation, and the notion of virginity is central. Once again, there is a clear difference of understanding. Whereas Pyle understands virginity in the narrow sense of sexual experience, Fowler defines it in terms of a deeper experience of love, intimacy, and vulnerability. This is why, when Pyle asked him earlier about his deepest sexual experience, Fowler responded with an image of a woman brushing her hair. Pyle’s inability to see beyond sex prevents him from understanding Fowler’s point of view regarding Phuong. Despite Fowler’s tender admission that in his old age it is companionship that he desires, not sex or love, Pyle continues to think that Fowler is immoral for stringing Phuong along.
In failing to understand Fowler’s perspective on love, Pyle also fails to understand the extent to which his companion is opening up to him. When Fowler confesses that he is a coward in the face of love, and that he tends to break things off too soon to avoid the pain of loss, Pyle reduces his admission to selfishness. Pyle’s obtuseness is ironic because he frequently complains that Fowler is too emotionally closed off. In reality, Fowler has let Pyle in on his darkest fear, the very same fear of loss, pain, and isolation that the reader first encounters in part one, 3. When Fowler openly compares himself to a cowardly soldier running toward death, he is making a profoundly vulnerable emotional gesture. Yet again, Pyle misses the point.