Close Reading of Selected Passages

First set of page references are to the Vintage 2002 edition; the second set to the 2004 edition.

Part One Chapter 1: pp. 16–20 / pp. 18–12
From “‘What do you know about Pyle?’” to ‘…the refrigerating plant hummed in the basement.’

  1. This is our first ‘meeting’ with Pyle. What do we learn about him?
  2. How do Pyle and Fowler differ? In what ways are they similar?
  3. What does Fowler mean when he says, “God save us always from the innocent and the good”?
  4. Is Fowler innocent as he claims? Consider his version of events on page 19. Why does he lie?
Part One Chapter 4 (Section 2): pp. 56-60 / pp.48–52
From ‘Pyle continued to unpack to ‘So we drank saying nothing.’
  1. How is Pyle’s nobility of purpose in coming to Phat Diem both at odds with his actions in support of the Third Force and consistent with it?
  2. Greene stresses cultural differences throughout the novel. In what ways does Pyle convey Greene’s attitude to America and Americans in this extract?
  3. Fowler says, “I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused”. Are Pyle’s motives as good as Fowler would have us believe?
  4. Why can neither Pyle nor Fowler say “Good luck”?

Part Two Chapter 2 (Section 3): pp. 94–96 / pp. 86–88
From “‘Sometimes the Viets have a better success with a megaphone than a bazooka’” to “‘They thought we’d stay. But we were liberals and we didn’t want a bad conscience.’”

The argument between Fowler and Pyle about the merits of further intervention in Vietnam is given its most sustained and articulate expression in this passage when the two are trapped in the tower.

  1. What is the essence of the case that Fowler is arguing against Pyle? For instance, when he says derisively ‘Isms and ocracies. Give me facts’ what does he mean and what is he objecting to in Pyle’s arguments?
  2. At the start of the discussion Fowler seems to be arguing against any colonial presence in Indo-China and other Asian countries. Does he shift his argument? For instance, look at the section of the passage that begins ‘Anyway the French are dying every day – that’s not a mental concept’. Does he contradict himself at all?
  3. This discussion has all the markings of a representative statement of two opposed views of experience and political activity that run through the novel. Do you think that Greene gives Pyle an opportunity to state his position fairly? For instance, what is the effect of Pyle’s constantly referring back to York Harding for authority whereas Fowler merely gives his own opinion?
  4. Towards the end of the passage, Fowler makes a vitriolic attack on the concept of liberalism and liberals in general. What do you think he means by ‘liberalism’? Does his sense of it distort the way in which the concept is customarily employed? On the basis of your own knowledge and reading, how justified do you think his criticisms are?

Part Two Chapter 2 (Section 3): pp. 98–105 / pp. 90–96
From “‘I stood below the tower ’” to “‘It's not easy to live with someone you've injured.’”

  1. Re-read page 98 beginning “I stood below the tower…” What ‘new’ facet of Fowler’s personality is revealed here? What does it reveal about Fowler and his attitude towards love?
  2. Closely analyse their discussion of love (pp.101-105).

Part Two Chapter 2 (Section 4): pp. 111–114 / pp. 102–105
From ‘But in the very second that my sneeze broke …’ to ‘… after the hypodermic of morphia had bitten my leg.’

  1. Significant events happen when Fowler is away from Saigon. How does this section contribute to his understanding of himself and those around him?
  2. Consider other times in the book when Fowler has to move away in order to gain enlightenment. Are there similarities between these times?
  3. Fowler expresses quite a cynical view of love in this section. Does his behaviour now and at other parts of the book bear out his words?
  4. Fowler claims that his prime motivation is peace of mind. Can we believe him?

Part Three Chapter 1 (Section 5): pp. 150–153 / pp. 142 –145
From “‘I stood below the tower ’” to “‘It's not easy to live with someone you've injured.’”

  1. This is a small but important scene. Analyse how this scene functions to put the events of the novel into perspective.

Part Three Chapter 2 (Section 2): pp. 157–153 / pp. 149–155
From “‘I stood below the tower ’” to “‘It's not easy to live with someone you've injured.’”

  1. Analyse Pyle's political beliefs.
  2. What is the decision that Fowler makes? How has he become engagé ?
  3. “What's the good? he'll always be innocent, you can't blame the innocent, they are always guiltless.” Explain what Fowler means.

Part Four Chapter 2 (Section 2): pp. 178-179 / p. 171
From ‘A trishaw driver waited opposite’ to ‘before he came in.’

  1. Fowler is, in effect, condoning the probable murder of his friend Pyle here, in order to prevent his killing more civilians through his ‘Third Force’. How morally justified do you think he is?
  2. What is your opinion of Pyle’s response to the charges Fowler levels against him? Can you see any change or development in Pyle’s attitudes towards the use of political power since the start of the novel?
  3. Can one ever justify employing immoral ends, such as murder, to achieve a cause which one believes is moral? If so, under what circumstances? Give examples in your answer.

Part Four Chapter 2 (Section 3): pp. 182–186 / pp. 174–177
From “‘A table for one?’” to ‘Then I went down into the street without hope and found Phuong there.’

  1. Greene often demonstrates that one can’t make assumptions based simply on culture or appearance. How is this demonstrated to Fowler in this extract?
  2. What makes Fowler realise that he has become engage despite his best intentions?
  3. Why does Granger choose Fowler to hear his story of pain and guilt?
  4. The final sentence of this extract and of this chapter, juxtaposes “without hope” and the finding of Phuong. What is the impact of this sentence after the seeming irrelevance of Granger’s anecdote and Pyle’s death, which has presumably occurred during the telling of it?
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