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In The Power and the Glory, Greene examines the bases of sin and salvation by focusing on the final months in the life of a man who is the last priest still practicing his calling in Mexico. In his treatment of the fugitive, Greene offers two possible views of the protagonist's plight, and he allows his readers to form their own conclusions concerning the priest's fate in eternity. The first view sees the priest's holiness as almost a truism. The clergyman has lived in the most dire conditions for years in Mexico — half-starved, assaulted by fever and the police — simply to carry out God's will. Even his death is caused by his sense of duty: he could have stayed across the mountains in safety, but he chose instead to administer Last Rites to the dying outlaw, Calver, although he sensed that he would be wasting his time and that the message summoning him was almost assuredly a police trick. We discover, however, that Calver did write the note. The second view is expressed by the pious woman incarcerated with the priest. She condemns him. In her eyes, the priest is merely a drunk, a lecher, a jester at Church precepts, and, above all, a sinner who will not repent. The novel alternates between these two positions, focusing on the priest's own ruminations concerning the state of his soul. Greene has chosen a most complex man to carry the burden of his theological ideas. But the priest has the capacity — and the opportunity — to analyze theological problems that have always troubled humankind. The nameless priest becomes Everyman, picking his way through the labyrinths of Mexico's mountain ranges and swamps in his attempt to do God's will, even though his spiritual situation is unnecessarily complicated by issues that would bother no one but the priest himself. Greene's priest has a tender conscience and a tendency to see only the evil in his actions and to exaggerate his blemishes. To such a man, virtues become vices and, added to valid guilt, they almost overpower him. Greene's priest, however, does have reason to repent. He was pompous in the early days of his priesthood; he subjugated emotions and concern for others to intellectual gymnastics; he did commit adultery; and he does drink far too much and might well be an alcoholic. But his imagined crimes, he feels, are much worse. He feels guilty because he loves the offspring of his sin, Brigitta; he suspects that his refusal to leave Mexico stems merely from pride; he broods over taking a lump of sugar from a dead child and snatching a bone from a dying dog -even though he himself is starving. He concerns himself unduly for enjoying a few days of rest at the Lehrs' home, and while there, he is immediately conscious of his tendency to return to his old, stilted ways, so sensitized is his conscience to any possible rumblings of sin. The priest, then, is a fully drawn character; but he is also a spokesman for Greene's view of the continuity of the Catholic Church. As a sensitive and thoughtful person, the protagonist is scarcely
while all the time retaining its sanctifying missions. he argues. Without charity (benevolence and loving forbearance). the priest's inability to carry out his clerical function -that is. Maria provides all of the ingredients for him to celebrate Mass. does not depend on any one person. which he uses in his dentistry is used to blend a cheapened quality of gold. the priest states that the totalitarian state is based upon personalities. the crucible. Starting with his dreadful night in the jail cell and ending with his kindness to the half-caste as they approach Calver. which is unusable in the Consecration. Calver. The lieutenant can erase caricatures from the walls that might ridicule the government. the dentist Tench pours symbolic wine (brandy) for the priest to drink. the Eucharist. The Church. and the novel traces the protagonist's growing awareness of the need for compassion and acceptance of the faults of others. the Church would be as cold and as brittle as the totalitarian state. as he symbolically usurps the role of celebrant. Greene cites the pathos of priestly celibacy in the priest's inability to communicate truly with Maria. and the nameless priest exist in a mystical. but the Church must be more tolerant. he associates Coral Fellows' name with the gemstones worn by girls after their First Communion. but the priest must hurry the Sacrifice because of the arrival of the police. the Governor's cousin and the jefe drink all of the precious wine. But even the Church must work through people. just as the priest's chalice is symbolically defective — that is. the government will probably fall. and his memory constantly returns to his pompous strictures at the First Communion celebration. parallel communion throughout The Power and the Glory. Both of their outdated pictures hang in the police station. In his debate with the lieutenant. The American outlaw. When its leaders die. to delineate their frustrated attempts. the priest's quest has been an effort to become totally human Themes of The Power and the Glory This novel is unified partially by the failing efforts of several characters to communicate significantly with one another. he is prohibited from "communicating" fully with Maria in a marriage because he is a priest. Here. and Greene uses the metaphor of the Communion of the Mass. The priest is as ineffectual in this setting as he was years before at Concepción. the mother of his child. At the beginning of the novel. . he says. yet he is only a small part of a large spiritual organization — the Roman Catholic Church. to distribute the Eucharist. In like manner. Later. Later. leaving the priest with only brandy. Throughout the novel. consumed by corruption. The wine-buying episode in the hotel room exemplifies. the photograph of the priest is one taken at a First Communion party long ago. chipped. symbolically.expendable. and the appearance of the new priest at the end of the novel manifests Greene's thesis.
Luis' father has abdicated his responsibility. becomes the true head of the family. his daughter seems already condemned to a hell in both this life and in the afterlife. Padre Jose is an obviously ineffectual "father" (or priest). he married after government insistence. cynical comment about traditional religion. Fatherhood throughout the novel becomes a metaphor for the characters' inability to communicate successfully in the world of emotions and reality. The priest's guilt is heightened by Brigitta's spiritual condition. the mestizo threatens to use the guise of Confession to trap the priest into admitting his ministry. Other "fathers" in the book serve as foils to the priest. is rejected by Luis. Calver also fits into this false father theme of the book. by Catholic precept. Finally. and the priest's death is occasioned by his return to a police state to shrive Calver. however. Greene replaces the formality of theology with the human virtue of humility. he leaves the task of rearing their three children to his wife. even though he fails to carry out the formal Church stipulations concerning the Sacrament for the priest who is about to die. as we have seen. just as the priest is trying to hear his confession. Again. and he spends his days living with a nagging. neither can they symbolically "confess" to one another. and the priest worries that hostages might be shot and die without receiving penance. The Fellowses have long ago lost the ability to communicate. False Fathers False fathers permeate the novel and help to define the priest's dilemma: the emotion that he feels for Brigitta should. which he experienced as a child. His gospel. in almost a parallel situation. except for the pious woman in the jail cell. Even the lieutenant is a misguided "father. and his daughter. Confession If. this novel traces the priest's realization that Communion. is not as important as compassion and human understanding. The priest-protagonist is close to God when he "confesses" that Padre Jose was always the better priest. the Tenches ceased to exchange letters after the death of their son. women. Captain Fellows' negligence presses her into maturity before her time. be applied to all the "children" of his congregation — in fact. He addresses the priest as "father' in his note. Coral Fellows' father is serene in his ignorance and inefficiency. therefore. and children) in the entire country of Mexico. The Lieutenant and the Priest . his only contribution to the marriage is an occasional. then. All of this Communion symbolism is reinforced by the many references to teeth in the novel. In short. to all the "children" (men. he enrages him by using the term 'bastard" to describe the police. are unfit for the reception of the Eucharist. grotesque wife. Padre Jose steadfastly refuses to hear the condemned fugitive's confession. And. The mouths of the characters. in the theological sense." wanting to spare the new children of Mexico the privations. who spits on the lieutenant's pistol at the end of the novel.On one level. the characters in this novel are unable to symbolically receive Communion.
erasing history. the type that helped bring about persecution by the police state in the first place. and they form a major structuring device in the novel. in contrast. The Disparity Between Representation and Reality . to refute the kind of destructive sentimentality inherent in traditional religion. He feels that the priest might soon be too old to work. comes to accept suffering and death as a part of life. Although the wish to help the poor is a noble sentiment. but his faith in the next world helps him to accept the trials and hardships of this one. an even more keen awareness of how imperfect the world is. counterpointing the mother's reading of young Juan's sentimental saga. when the lieutenant gives the disguised clergyman a five-peso note. young Juan cries out "Long live Christ the King. an idealist is one who imagines that the world can be a much better place than it is. Greene's book is a deliberate and vibrant protest against the tale of young Juan. and both have the good of the people at heart. The Dangers of Excessive Idealism To put it simply. dreams of "starting over". and wiping out all religious belief are simply not realizable. All of the priest's meanderings seem to gravitate toward these confrontations. The priest's Way of the Cross unfolds section by section. on the other hand. must be led to his execution because his legs are buckling beneath him. The Young Juan Story Almost all of the priest's actions should be viewed against the backdrop of young Juan's holy doings. This kindness is foreshadowed in the second meeting. The novel is written. What could be dangerous about that? The lieutenant. At the end. in many ways. The priest." but the priest. the price of a Mass. and the final meeting ends with a partial reconciliation of opposites. he remains mired in dissatisfaction and bitterness about the way things actually are. and hatred for those people whom he views as obstacles to the realization of his dream. illustrates the danger. although their means are diametrically opposed. that is not to say that he does not wish to help alleviate suffering. His rendering of a very human priest gives lie to the plaster saint. and he does all he can to comfort the priest during his last hours. The lieutenant is able to see the worth of his prisoner. Greene emphasizes that the lieutenant is not all bad. in part. Both the lieutenant and the priest are leaders of two different types of totalitarian states. his conviction that he knows what is best for the people is itself a form of arrogance. Obsessed with the way things could be. being unable to bring about the impossible leads the lieutenant to feelings of frustration and anger.In an essay. Moreover. Moreover. The priest's three meetings with the lieutenant correspond to Christ's three falls on His way to the Cross.
the priest is treated like Christ on Holy Thursday night. especially by the time of the novel's close. Motifs in The Power and the Glory The Biblical Motif The priest's journey through Mexico is his Via Crucis (Way of the Cross). . a parallel to Christ's washing the feet of his Apostles at the Last Supper. and Greene is interested in writing about reality as it is truly experienced." who repented on Good Friday. but rather to show that real-life differs from idealistic stories. Stories. This theme extends beyond storytelling to other forms of representation. in most cases. His visit to Maria resembles Christ's sojourn at the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany. The protagonist's salvation is worked out upon a "true cross. the priest takes note of how little the gringo looks like his picture on the wanted poster in the police office. In prison. and life as it is lived. In prison. One thing that becomes apparent by the novel's close is how very different Juan's story of martyrdom is from the priest's. Acts of storytelling occur quite frequently throughout the novel.Greene is interested in showing the gap between life as it is remembered. and the novel is filled with comparisons between the priest and Christ. even if he himself is attempting to create that sense of unvarnished reality through his own storytelling. and he is forced to empty the pails of excrement. The most obvious example is the story of Juan. pictures and other kinds of representation can give a misleading. Although the priest certainly is an admirable figure. he still faces death afraid and unable to repent. exaggerated picture of a person. the young martyr. But Greene is not juxtaposing the two accounts of martyrdom merely to highlight the priest's shortcomings. The priest's mission is carried on in hidden barns resembling Christ's furtive stable. recorded or retold. too. Juan's life is characterized from start to finish by composure. he is compared to (and contrasted with) the "good thief. and the lieutenant fails to recognize the priest because the priest does not have the delicate hands that a stereotypical priest would have. above all. loyalty and." which ironically necessitates his staying away from Vera Cruz. which quickly became a target for Herod and his pursuers. unshakeable faith. For example.
" just as he bungled his role in Peter's Church — that is. "I found a rose [Christ] in my field. the priest battles a starving mongrel for the last bit of rancid meat on a discarded bone. S. becomes clearer when matched against the courage of St. his name. Falling short of salvation." as the priest. While he may not accept the validity of every aspect of the theological system. Greene is a Modernist. the priest for a moment feels at one with God. the priest discovers that the hostage Miguel has been beaten like an animal." more concerned with escape (albeit the priest's) than with salvation. Dogs figure prominently in the novel. the patron saint of the Happy Family. The priest is chased through the streets of the capital city like a rat through a maze by the Red Shirts. Eliot. in jail. The lieutenant tries to kill the numerous black insects that scurry across his book.crowned" with thorns as his sharp hat rim presses into his head. He baptizes a boy as "Brigitta" instead of "Pedro. when he rides astride a donkey toward Calver. However." Padre Jose's moral cowardice. Joseph. Coral Fellows is crucified by coming into puberty. is like Moses. all the time staring on with "moron" faces. unable to enter the village of his birth. man is reduced to the state of the lower creatures. The mestizo is a Judas-figure. flies are buzzing around his wounded eye. one who employs a universally recognizable structure of myth to define contemporary individuals. The mestizo sits in his jail cell. In his use of these religious symbols. of course. Other biblical personages serve as well to define the protagonist and the principals of the novel. calling for beer as flies buzz around his vomit. he uses Scripture. Greene describes the priest's plight in terms of a bull who is about to be killed in an arena. and during a crucial chapter." indicates the rectitude of his choice not to remain in a relatively safe province. as do James Joyce and T. he sees only crooked crosses. and. Fellows is Pilate-like in his willingness to relinquish the priest to the state — as is Padre Jose. Greene implies. but his gesture is as futile as his attempts to prevent future priests from coming into his state. Ironically. for example. for "all it is worth. Buzzards flap their wings as if to toll the death knell of Mexico's police state. illuminated by a low hanging Star of Bethlehem. And Calver becomes the "bad thief. the Roman Catholic Church. Greene's theme in all of this is that man is saved only by recognizing and accepting his lower self: he ascends by first descending. The priest. shut out from the Promised Land. and the mestizo is compared to a bloodhound as he relentlessly stalks the clergyman. using a bit of Latin from the Mass service. he feels that he is . Young Juan's story is a parody of the Gospel according to Saint John. hard wall of the banana station.When the priest ascends to the mountain plateau with the Indian woman. Animal Imagery On three occasions. she wearily leans against the hot. the snippet of his song. suggests Calvary. Spark Notes----Animals . and allusions to animals of all types abound on the pages of the novel. Without God. Humanity at its most abject level is seen in the hungry clergyman's treatment of the mongrel: the dog becomes an "altar boy. deceives the animal into relinquishing its hold on the bone.
. we can see by this list alone that half-things more often than not play some detrimental role in this novel. In that scene the priest battles the dog over a bone with a few bites of meat on it and the implicit question is whether anything separates us from the animals. The priest and the lieutenant are by and large. is the crippled dog that the priest discovers at the abandoned estate. and the priest recognizes this. there are dozens of examples throughout the novel. Near the end of the novel. perhaps. and sterility. The curfew is an artificial device to secure a moribund state against the rain and the heat. locked in the prisons of their memories. Are human beings reducible to the will to survive? It is a question of great importance to the priest. His struggle with the maimed mongrel over a morsel of meat is a pathetic scene. the mestizo exclaims to the priest. grandmothers who rock back and forth silently. physical sordidness. The most striking one. The novel is saturated with the "green sour smell" of a Mexican river. half-husband. There are also many mentions of insects throughout the novel. As the nauseous and forgetful Tench walks toward the wharf. the priest despairs most often over the "half-hearted". "you do nothing in moderation. becoming one of many people in the novel who express their disgust by spitting. Moreover. both moral and physical. and busts of recent heroic generals are being covered quickly with mildew. he spits bile into the street. which constantly threatens to engulf it.There are many references to animals throughout this novel. The General Obregon looks as though it is ready to sink. Pointless life careening to pointless death seems to be the import of these details. and the implicit question is whether human life is similarly futile and meaningless. Padre Jose is half-priest. one in which hunger and the will to live seem to win out over human dignity. The crumbling of Mexico is seen in taxis that have no passengers. notably in scenes involving the lieutenant. and playground swings that stand like gallows next to a ruined cathedral. The Decay Motif Greene pictures the death of Mexico under its godless government through vivid details of decay. Mr. Greene refers to insects hurling themselves into lamps or being crushed underfoot." Although the extremities are often dangerous—particularly in the case of the lieutenant's actions—Greene seems to suggest that it is better to live life with intensity and passionate commitment than it is to live in an indifferent or complacent fashion. dynamos that run only haltingly and sporadically. Half-things A striking thing about this novel is the prevalence of "half-things": the mestizo is a "half-caste". exceptions—people who refuse half-measures and instead tend towards extremes. Tench seems half-alive. who often is at a loss to justify his desire to live (especially when he considers the pain his presence inflicts upon others).
the question of what will become of the next generation looms large. the priest's death is reminiscent of Christ's willing sacrifice and his execution at the hands of the authorities. Christian Symbolism At many points throughout the book. Of course. As we see throughout the book. and are not merely playing out some predetermined scheme. Despite the similarities. but perhaps the work he and his fellow officers have done will effectively rid the next generation of all religious sentiment. but as two halves of the same coin. different characters seem to stand in for figures from the New Testament. where a sense of community seems to have all but disappeared. On the one hand. whom the priest expressly refers to as "Judas. Children Coral Fellows. a mark. Thus. On the other hand. In a land of violence and persecution. or even permanently damaged. The priest is consumed with worry over the fate of his daughter. He cannot completely eradicate the memory of religion from the minds of the older generation. to him. by the end of the novel. Brigida and the boy are just a few of the children who play key roles in this novel. of his unworthiness and the decadence of his former life. and a present innocence that may be threatened. children seem to symbolize both a future that is very much hanging in the balance. alcohol is an integral part of the Catholic mass. Brigida. the sacred and the profane are often portrayed not as opposites. fearing that she has already been altered for the worse by the cruelty of the world. one must pay close attention to the differences as well. since Greene is extremely careful to emphasize that his characters have the free will to decide their own paths in life. recalling the night Jesus spends in the garden with the disciples who cannot seem to keep themselves awake." During his night in the hut with the mestizo. it represents weakness for "the whiskey priest". by the conflicted times in which they live PLOT OVERVIEW Plot Overview . The authorities' attempts to rid the state of alcohol are a manifestation of the impossible and detrimental desire to purge the world of all human weakness.Symbols Alcohol Alcohol recurs throughout this book as a symbol with two very different meanings. the priest has trouble keeping himself awake. Perhaps the most obvious example is the mestizo. The lieutenant seems to be motivated by a desire to help children avoid the pitfalls of his own childhood by wiping out religion. evidenced by the priest's persistent attempts to procure wine.
He is in disguise. and it very soon becomes clear that he is an untrustworthy figure. The next day. wearing a drill suit. The lieutenant—a sworn enemy of all r eligion—arrives at the end of mass. The priest knows that if he enters Carmen he will surely be captured. the lieutenant takes a hostage. the priest is ordered to clean out the cells and. No one in the village turns him in. A pious woman. and he tries to procure a bottle of wine so he can say mass. But the mestizo. an American outlaw who is also on the run from police. The priest heads to the town of Carmen. he is summoned to a dying woman's house and misses his boat. who has become feverish by the second day of their journey together. he heads to a village in which he used to live and work as pastor. and the priest goes out to the town square to face his enemy. and is allowed to go free. and most likely interes ted in following the priest so that he can turn him in and collect the reward money. In jail he speaks with the prisoners. He hides out in a barn on the estate of a plantation owner. The priest then leaves the hotel but is caught with the bottle of brandy by a state official. The priest spends a night at the abandoned estate of the Fellows and then moves on to an abandoned village. Forced to move on. he is caught and taken to j ail. however. but again goes unrecognized. argues with the priest. He accompanie s the woman to a burial ground and then leaves her there. The priest finally admits that he is. meets the mestizo again. He is on the run from the police because religion has been outlawed in his state and he is the last remaining clergyman. the priest is waiting for a boat that will take him out of the capital city. while doing so. The priest then backtracks to the capital city. He meets a beggar who takes him to a hotel and introduces him to a man who says he can supply him with th e wine. during which the priest unsuccessfully attempts to take refuge at the house of Padre Jose. and the lieutenant does not realize that he has foun d the man he is looking for. Fatigued. leading a group of policemen in search of the priest. and on the way he meets a man known simply as the mestizo. But. and Brigida. But the mestizo decides not to turn the priest in to the authorities. Instead. and he lets the mestizo ride on towards the town by himself. While talking to a man named Mr. a priest. in jail for having religious articles in her home. The priest has another face-to-face encounter with the lieutenant. the priest staggers on. befriending the owner's daughter. does not have the strength t o follow the priest when he veers off course. the mestizo accompanies the priest on his journey. . The man arrives and sells the priest a bottle of wine and a bottle of brandy. whom he says he will execute if he finds that the villagers have been lying to him about the whereabouts of the wanted man.At the beginning of the novel. a woman with whom he has had a brief affair. He meets an Indian woman whose son has been shot and killed by the gringo. taking advantage of the priest's offer to share a drink with him. Uninvited. There he meets Maria. thwarting the priest's plan. eventually coming upon a man named Mr. Lehr who informs him that he is out of danger. After a lengthy chase through the streets of the town. the man proceeds to drink the entire bottle of wine. indeed. and almost completely drained of the will to live. having crossed the bor der into a neighboring state where religion is not outlawed. his illegitimate daughter. admitting to them that he is a priest. Tench. He spends the night in the town and wakes before dawn to say mass for the villagers.
He wakes up the next morning afraid of the impending execution. when the storm front clears. The priest. the lieutenant goes to the home of Padre Jose to see if he will come and hear the confession of the captured priest. as expected. There he meets the gringo. Tench watches the execution from the window of the jefe's office. Later that night the boy hears about what happened to the priest and realizes that the man is a martyr and a hero. the lieutenant arrives and ta kes the priest into custody. he finds a man seeking shelter.After spending a few days at the home of Mr. the priest prepares to leave for Las Casas. aware that he is walking into a trap. . he swings the door wide open to let him in. the lieutenant takes the priest back to the capital city for his trial. and when the boy learns that the man is a priest. the mestizo arrives. who refuses to repent for his sins and then dies. The two men have a long conversation about their beliefs and then. The next day. But before he can depart. Mr. Lehr. Padre Jose refuses and the lieutenant returns to the police station with a bottle of bra ndy for the priest. finally agrees to accompany the mestizo back across the border. On the night before the priest is to be executed. and wakes up to the sound of knocking at the door. Opening the door. but finds he cannot. informing him that the gringo has been mortally wounded by the police and is asking for someone to come and hear his confession. He dreams about him that night. That night. the priest tries to repent for his sins. Then.
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