Study Guide

The Quiet American Sexuality and Sexual Identity

By Graham Greene

Sexuality and Sexual Identity

It was a superstition among them that a lover who smoked would always return, even from France. A man's sexual capacity might be injured by smoking, but they would always prefer a faithful to a potent lover. (1.1.28)

Fowler seems to share this preference. He wants somebody to be with him as he lives out the remaining years of his life. He loved Phuong for what she can give him, not for who she is.

I said, 'She's got a date every night.' (1.3.1.32)

Fowler feels the need to make sure prospective rival lovers know that Phuong is with him, permanently. To him, death might be the only permanent thing, but he sure wants a few other things in his life to have that same status.

'You can have her interests. I only want her body. I want her in bed with me. I'd rather ruin her and sleep with her than, than … look after her damned interests.' (1.4.2.64)

The love Fowler has for Phuong appears more as self-love than anything. He's not interested in what's good for her or in her future. This Fowler guy sounds like a real charmer, doesn't he?

Dante never thought up that turn of the screw for his condemned lovers. Paolo was never promoted to Purgatory. (1.5.1.35)

It's interesting that Fowler compares himself with a figure doomed forever in Hell. Is that how he sees his relationship with Phuong? In a way, yes. It's the hell of uncertainty and fear that Phuong will leave. Love hurts.

'And if you lose Phuong, will you be sensible?'
'Oh yes, I hope so. And you?'
'I doubt it. I might even run amok. Have you thought about that, Pyle?' (2.1.62-64)

This is a dig at Pyle, who rarely considers how his well-meaning actions with affect others.

'Is that how you make love in America – figures of income and blood group?'
'I don't know, I've never done it before. Maybe at home my mother would talk to her mother.' (2.1.113-14)

Pyle's as ignorant about sexuality as he is about the politics of Vietnam. His ignorance in both matters antagonizes Fowler.

'If somebody asked you what your deepest sexual experience had been, what would you say?'
I knew the answer to that. 'Lying in bed one early morning and watching a woman in a red dressing-gown brush her hair.' (2.2.3.156-157)

Fowler's sexuality extends beyond the pursuit of sexual intercourse, but it's still limited. His deepest sexual experience isn't a deeply personal and intimate encounter with another person. It's a passive moment when he was distanced and disengaged from another. He was doing one thing. She another. In that moment, he wasn't involved.

'For an aging man, Pyle, it's very secure – she won't run away from home so long as the home is happy.' (2.2.3.176)

Phuong and Fowler seem to want the same thing in their relationship: permanence.

'You know, Pyle, women don't want virgins. I'm not sure we do, unless we are a pathological type. (2.2.3.184)

This is Fowler trying to break through Pyle's innocence and idealism with a bit of cheeky British humor. Or we should say…humour.

It was impossible to conceive either of them a prey to untidy passion: they did not belong to rumpled sheets and the sweat of sex. Did they take deodorants to bed with them? I found myself for a moment envying their sterilized world, so different from this world that I inhabited – which suddenly inexplicably broke in pieces. (3.2.2.17)

Fowler might not try to control his sexual world by sanitizing it, but he very much wants it under his control. He's very bothered by Pyle's attempt to take Phuong from him.