Study Guide

The Quiet American Isolation

By Graham Greene

Isolation

'I'm not involved, not involved,' I repeated. It has been an article of my creed. The human condition being what it was, let them fight, let them love, let them murder, I would not be involved. My fellow journalists called themselves correspondents; I preferred the title of reporter. I wrote what I saw. I took no action – even an opinion is a kind of action. (1.2.2.23)

Does Fowler identify as a reporter because he's not involved or is he not involved because he identifies as a reporter? Which came first—the chicken or the egg?

'I don't take sides. I'll be still reporting, whoever wins.' (2.2.3.60)

Fowler basically sees rottenness everywhere, in every side of every conflict. He doesn't want to associate with atrocities, wherever they happen, so he doesn't take sides. Until the business with Pyle, anyway.

'They are supposed to be on our side.'
'I thought you didn't have a side.'
'Touché,' I said. 'I wish the Viets knew it.' (2.2.3.95-7)

Pyle catches Fowler speaking as though he has taken sides. Is this a slip of the tongue or a betrayal of his true sentiments? Can anyone be truly impartial?

'Now I know I need nobody – except Phuong. But that's a thing one learns with time. I could go a year without one restless night if she wasn't there.' (2.2.3.147)

Companionship: the cause of and solution to all of life's problems. At least if you're Fowler.

'I've reached the age when sex isn't the problem so much as old age and death. I wake up with these in mind and not a woman's body. I just don't want to be alone in my last decade, that's all. I wouldn't know what to think about all day long.' (2.2.3.188)

Fowler wants to be isolated from involvement, and yet his isolation cannot be complete. He's involved in Phuong's life, helping to direct its course, whether he would admit it or not.

If only he had left me alone, I would have been responsible only for my own life – not his – and he wanted to live. (2.2.4.30)

Here's one of the keys to Fowler's isolation. He's allergic to responsibility. Why do you think that is? And here we're just allergic to shellfish...what gives?

Loneliness lay in my bed and I took loneliness into my arms at night … now I wanted to read her thoughts, but they were hidden away in a language I couldn't speak. (3.1.2.1)

Contrary to what Fowler says elsewhere, Phuong is not just a body to him. Not always.

I walked home and up on my landing the old women burst into their twitter of the hedges which I could understand no more than the gossip of the birds. (3.1.2.26)

Being in a foreign country adds to Fowler's isolation. It also shines a light that he's not entirely honest with himself or with us. If he were really not involved, then the gossip he can't understand wouldn't even capture his attention, like dust in the wind.

I went in and locked the door and sitting with my head against the cold wall I cried. (3.1.3.28)

It's interesting that Fowler breaks down while alone in a public place. Somebody could come in on him, interrupting his private moment. It's another sign that his isolation is only partial.

'Sooner or later … one has to take sides. If one is to remain human.' (4.2.1.42)

Fowler comes to accept this, but it comes with a price. Remaining human means living with guilt he cannot escape.