Fowler, Pyle, Phoung; Europe, USA, Vietnam

Some details of the love triangle among Fowler, Pyle and Phoung can be read as an allegory of the colonialism. In fact, the whole love story can be read like this, but there are two specific moments of the novel in which this appears very clearly.

?One of those moments is the conversation that Fowler and Pyle maintain in the headquarters of the French officers. The other moment is also a conversation among Fowler and Pyle, in this case they maintain it after the car in which they travel goes out of gasoline.

In this allegory, Fowler would symbolize Europe; Pyle, the United States of America and Phoung, Vietnam.

Firstly let’s see how Fowler acts. The representation of Europe in this allegory is a person with experience. The reason why he appears disappointed with regard to noble ideals as the democracy is, precisely, his experience. For example, when he and Pyle come into the watch tower, force the two Vietnamese that there are to host them and disarm them, they have the following conversation:

I said to Pyle, “Do you think they know they are fighting for Democracy? We ought to have York Harding here to explain it to them.” “You always laugh at York,” Pyle said.
“I laugh at anyone who spends so much time writing about what doesn’t exist–mental concepts.”

We see how Europe is according to this analogy: is disappointed with regard to the democracy as an ideal, in general, in part because his real behavior is not accorded with what this ideal represents; and more precisely, is skeptical on the possibility of bring the democracy (in the European sense of the term at least) to realities different to the European one. In the words of Fowler already the end of the eurocentrism and the recognition of different realities is observed: «They want enough rice, (…) they don’t want to be shot at. They want one day to be much the same as another. They don’t want our white skins around telling them what they want.», Fowler says. And also says:

“Oh no,” I said, “we’ve brought them up in our ideas. We’ve taught them dangerous games, and that’s why we are waiting here, hoping we don’t get our throats cut. We deserve to have them cut. I wish your friend York was here too. I wonder how he’d relish it.”

As it can be seen in the previous quote, Fowler, besides not trusting the European point of view for Vietnam, he sees nothing related with noble ideas in this war. Pyle himself (who represents the United States of America) recognizes that Fowler-Europe has more experience than he: «You’ve seen so much more of the world than I have.», says him. Europe already has a lot of experience in wars and in colonialism.

The European position represented by Fowler is cynical, skeptical with regard to the supposed values in the background of the war; he is convinced in fact that the real motivations of the war are strategic motivations, not idealistic ones.

Pyle’s position is very different. He, who represents the United States of America in the allegory, thinks that the contingent of his country fights for the democracy in Vietnam, against the communism, for freedom. Pyle thinks this is the battle that is being issued. He thinks that the occidental values that he defends can be transferred to a different reality: the reality of Vietnam.

Besides, Pyle not only is convinced that what he defends is the best for Vietnam, but he also thinks that he perceives the support of the population: «They don’t want Communism», they support the democracy even if they pay it with human lives: «In a way you could say they died for Democracy», they long for freedom in the occidental sense of the term. Pyle has learned to be idealistic reading York Harding and so believes there is a right background in that war.

In the conviction that both know what Vietnam needs, one from the cynicism that gives him the experience, another from his learned idealism, the arguments that each of them give, are startling. They are incompatible, that is why they are startling with all regard to the war and, parallelly in the allegory, they are startling with all regard to Phoung in the conversation in the headquarter of the French officers : «She’ll just have to choose between us, Thomas. That’s fair enough.»

When Fowler says that he can not marry Phuong, in the allegory that means the impossibility for Europe to commit itself with Vietnam in the same intensity in which the Americans can do it. When he stands out that Pyle can offer her more money, refers to the biggest economic power of the United States of America.

With all these data the position of Europe remains clear, but Europe also takes part in the war. It already takes part without the idealistic cloak. He knows that the best for the Vietnamese would be not to take part (he knows that the eurocentrism is false) but that is not the best for Europe’s interests. That, transferred to the allegorical Vietnam, which is Phoung, appears as follow:

“Oh, but I know you’re straight, absolutely straight, and we both have her interests at heart.” Suddenly I couldn’t bear his boyishness any more. I said, I don’t care that for her interests. 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.” He said, “Oh,” in a weak voice, in the dark.

I went on, “If it’s only her interests you care about, for God’s sake leave Phuong alone. Like any other woman she’d rather have a good . . .”

Actually, Fowler-Europe is convinced that what needs Vietnam is that neither Europe nor United States of America take part in their problems. And he thinks firmly that the position of Pyle with regard to Phoung, which is the same to say the position of United States with regard to Vietnam, is to cloak idealism and good intentions what in fact is the search of an advantage (which in any case Europe does not conceal), something that in fact is going to be very harmful to Vietnam. That is why Fowler sentences, refering at the same time Phyle’s behavior with Phoung and USA behavior with war:

«I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.»