A more real Phoung

Phuong can be considered as the representation in The Quiet American of the Vietnamese people. Of course, in the characters who belong to this set, she is the only one that is treated with a exhaustive attention. That allows, among other things, observe certain models of relationship between the women of Vietnam and some members of the North American troops in this case that are portrayed in the novel.

However, can not be considered the character of Phuong as an stereotype. The reason is that this character is shown to the reader in a way from the perspective of the narrator, Fowler; the narrator says that Pyle sees Phuong in another different way; the sister of Foung sees her in another different form and other characters with less direct contact with her, for example Granger see her in a different way to all the previous ones. In any case none of the perspectives from which every character see Fuong is discarded totally (perhaps except this last of whom only have a superficial contact with her) because does not remain clear what is the real Phuong just in case something essential and absolutely true exists in an author like Greene.

There were sexual intercourses provoked by the asymmetrical relation of force between the civil person and the members not only of the army that fought by the control of Vietnam, but also the entire team of the combatant powers. According to that Granger says about Phuong: «”Where’d he find her? You got to be careful in this town.” He added gloomily, “Thank God for penicillin.”». Vigot thinks even that she is a prostitute. Who have little direct relationship with Phuong sometimes consider her only a sexual object to serve to the one who have power in one or in another form.

In the same novel denies that Phuong was only that. “She’s got a date every night.”, Fowler tells suddenly to Granger when he insists on harassing Phuong. The sex plays an important role in the relationship between the British journalist and the Vietnamese youngster. But she is not for him only a sexual object, he is in love with her, is a sex-based love, but it is love. There is not a love in a traditional sense: «”Phuong,” (…) which means Phoenix, but nothing nowadays is fabulous and nothing rises from its ashes.», the skeptic behaviour of Fowler is transferred in some way to the area of his affective and sexual relationships. Anyway, the feeling of possession and love for Phuong worries a lot Fowler and does not want to lose her, looks permanently for a stability that knows that he is complicated that he is going to be able to find, and never he will find it if Pyle interferes:

«Hadn’t she been fond of me and hadn’t she left me for Pyle? She had attached lierself to youth and hope and seriousness and now they had failed her more than age and despair.»

In a context of social and political instability as important as is a war, Phuong seems to look for protection and have a relationship with Fowler while she has protection with him. In exchange, Phuong submits Fowler and make all he wants, as the fact that she prepares pipes of opium for him every time he wants, for example, evidences it.

Fowler sees Phuong as somebody to whom of the occidental culture and knowledge in not interesting (except banalities), but does not give this opinion in a negative way, Fowler knows that the view of world of Vietnamese people is different, that’s why he talks of “wonderful ignorance”:

«Phuong on the other hand was wonderfully ignorant: if Hitler had come into the conversation she would have interrupted to ask who he was. The explanation would be made more difficult because she had never met a German or a Pole and had only the vaguest knowledge of European geography, though about Princess Margaret of course she knew more than I.»

On the other hand Pyle, whose love for Phuong is paternalistic, is destined to free her from the frantic but temporary love of Fowler. Pyle’s approach to Phuong is very formal, very rigid and in some way out of context:

«”Peut-on avoir l’honneur?” Pyle was saying in hister-rible accent and a moment later I saw them dancing in silence at the other end of the room, Pyle holding her so far away from him that you expected him at any moment to sever contact. He was a very bad dancer, and she had been the best dancer I had ever known in her days at the Grand Monde.»

And, between these two visions of Phuong, there is the contrast with her sister Hei. Phuong goes in search of protection and acts with submission, while Hei wants for her a rich European husband and she finds decidedly and without fears. Hei has a vision of her sister halfway between an informer and somebody to protect.

The character of Phuong, therefore, is not presented very profiled and in a clear immutable form, and that deny us talk about an stereotype, but is shown us in a polyhedral way and is not indicated if one of the sides corresponds to a more real Phuong than the rest.


Los peligros de la inocencia: Graham Greene (1904-1991). Carlos Franz. Letras libres magazine [on line] <http://www.letraslibres.com/index.php?art=10101>. 2004.
The Quiet American. Wikipedia contributors. Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Quiet_American&oldid=214810531>.