Thomas Fowler is the narrator as well as the main turner of events in the novel. Fowler is a veteran British journalist in his fifties, who has been covering the war in Vietnam for over two years. He is indifferent to the things happening around him. He says, “the human condition being what it was, let them fight, let them love, let them murder, I would not get 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.” His views on his profession make it clear that he has lost all conscience living in the modern war-torn world where there is nothing humane about humanity. His cynical and depressing view makes the world of the narrative much darker and desolate because the absence of religion or religiosity (as Fowler is an atheist) makes the world dreadfully comic and gloomy.
Fowler is married legally but he is separated from his wife. They have not divorced each other as yet. Mrs. Fowler thinks that divorce is not a suitable end to a marriage because of her religious views. R. W. B. Lewis is of the opinion that “the novel’s viewpoint is the non-religious consciousness of Fowler, the narrator, whose religious myopia contrasts with the warm, unstable Catholicism shown by his English wife in letters written from home.”(59) They are not merely separated in emotional terms but they are also physically separated by thousands of miles as Mrs. Fowler lives in England.
Fowler, on the other hand, lives in Saigon with a young beautiful Vietnamese girl, Phuong, with whom he shares the bed but does not have any emotional bonding. Phuong has chosen to live with him as she thinks that Fowler is going to marry him and in the process she is going to have a bright future in Europe. But Fowler has no such intentions as he does not care a bit about Phuong’s interest. Fowler is staying in Vietnam as he is in a self-inflicted exile because England for him is the scene of his failures. Though he despises Saigon, yet he lives there because it is physically distant from London and his wife. He does his reporting for the media and then enjoys his life with opium and Phuong, and is cynical about the ways of the world and about the things happening around him. His pessimism is so depressing that the whole world seems to be very murky. Yet in this gloomy world, Fowler carries on living a life without any apparent materialistic problems – as Phuong is there to take care of his apartment and sexual needs, and opium is enough to make him lead an otherwise easy life.
But the easy flowing life of Fowler is caught in a web when the American, Alden Pyle enters their life, and Phuong finds Pyle to be a better marital prospect and consequently moves in with him. Pyle’s arrival threatens the calm smooth-sailing sexual life of Fowler and he now starts finding ways through which he can beat Pyle in the game of love. Fowler finds out that York Harding’s idea of the Third Force is the ideology that Pyle believes in fervently and works along the lines of those ideologies to create a third force in Vietnam. Fowler figures out that this naïve move of Pyle can be used against him as a weapon to get back the girl.
It is at this juncture that the novel is set when Fowler’s conscience, love and politics of Vietnam are set in a tripartite battle. Pyle’s innocence makes Fowler sympathize with him as he knows that Pyle’s innocence or naivety is the cause the of death of fifty people, including women and children. Although, it is the same innocence which made Pyle risk his own life to save Fowler in the battle field. But in the modern day existence, innocence perishes and so does Pyle, when cynicism of Fowler goes against him.