Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Graham Greene, baptized an Anglican, became an atheist at Oxford University and converted to Catholicism at the age of twenty-one. He preferred to say he was not a Catholic novelist but rather a novelist who happened to be Catholic; nevertheless, his faith informed his work. As a journalist, he traveled to Mexico to write The Lawless Roads: A Mexican Journal (1939), a nonfiction account of religious persecution in the states of Tabasco and Chiapas. Antireligious laws were most severe in Tabasco, where all Catholic churches were destroyed and the celebration of Mass, confession, and rites for the dying were forbidden. The governor decreed that all priests must leave the state, marry, or be shot. There, Greene encountered stories of the hunted, alcoholic priest who became his protagonist in The Power and the Glory.
Greene’s “whiskey priest” is a questionable hero. He has evaded the authorities for ten years, yet he still feels a pastoral duty: Without him, the people cannot receive God through the sacrament of Communion. Fear dominates his life. A small man, he dreads pain; only brandy can give him courage when necessary. He has sinned, for in a moment of loneliness he has fathered a child. He knows he is unworthy of the priesthood but cannot abandon those who need him, even though he wants to—unlike Padre José, a disgraced old priest who chose to marry his housekeeper rather than die and who faces continual humiliation.
The whiskey priest’s pursuer is an ascetic police lieutenant, a priest of the new order, whose real life began with the socialist revolution a few years before. He wholeheartedly believes that religion has had a corrupting influence on the lives of his people. Although he has destroyed lives and property for his ideals, he views...
(The entire section is 734 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The setting of The Power and the Glory is Mexico during the late 1930’s, when President Plutarco Elias Calles, in the name of revolution, was closing down the churches and murdering or exiling priests and practicing Catholics. The hero is an unnamed whiskey priest who is pursued through the countryside by an unnamed lieutenant. The fact that the protagonists are not named gives the novel the form of a parable. The priest represents a human, Christlike figure persecuted by the lieutenant, who embodies the ruthless, secular ideals of socialism.
In his continuous search for safety and food, the priest takes refuge in a barn owned by Captain Fellows, an English banana planter. His thirteen-year-old daughter, Coral, risks her and her family’s safety in attending to the priest’s needs during his stay. She stands in vivid contrast to the priest’s own illegitimate daughter, Brigita. Coral is still an innocent and later appears to the priest in a comforting dream moments before he is executed. Brigita, on the other hand, despite her youth, has lost her innocence amid her squalid poverty. The priest is overcome by his guilt for having brought a hopeless child into the world and prays that God will take his faith and life in exchange for the salvation of his daughter. Along his travels the priest meets up with a mestizo, a grotesque Judas figure who leads the priest to his capture by the lieutenant. Awaiting execution in prison, the priest reveals a...
(The entire section is 479 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In a state in Mexico, the Catholic Church has been outlawed and the priests driven underground on threat of being executed. After several months, the governor’s office announces that one priest is still moving from village to village carrying on the work of the Church by administering the sacraments and saying Mass. A young lieutenant of police, an ardent revolutionist and an anticlerical, persuades his chief to let him search for the priest, who, as the authorities see it, is guilty of treason.
Two photographs are pasted up together in the police station. One is the picture of a fugitive American bank robber who has killed several police officers in Texas; the other is that of the priest. No one notices the irony, least of all the young lieutenant, who is far more interested in arresting the clergyman. At the same time that the officer is receiving permission to make a search for the priest, the priest is in the village; he has come there to get aboard a boat that will take him to the city of Vera Cruz and to safety.
Before the priest can board the boat, word comes to him that an Indian woman is dying several miles inland. True to his calling, the priest mounts a mule and sets out to administer the last rites to the dying woman, although he realizes that he might not find another ship to carry him to safety. There is one other priest in the vicinity, Father José. Father José, however, had been cowardly enough to renounce the Church, even to the point of taking a wife, a shrewish old woman. The authorities pay no attention to him at all, for they think, in Father José’s case correctly, that a priest who has renounced his vows is a detriment and a shame to the Church.
After completing his mission, the priest returns to the coast, where he spends the night in a banana warehouse. The English manager on the plantation allows him to hide there. The following day, he sets out on muleback for the interior, hoping to find refuge from the police and from the revolutionary party of Red Shirts. As he travels, he thinks of his own past and of himself as a poor example of the priesthood. The priest is a whiskey priest, a cleric who would do almost anything for a drink of spirits. In addition, he has in a moment of weakness fathered a child by a woman in an inland village. Although he considers himself a weak man and a poor priest, he is still determined to carry on the work of the Church as long as he can, not because he wants to be a martyr but because he knows nothing else to do.
After twelve hours of travel, he reaches the village where his onetime mistress and his child live. The woman takes him in overnight, and the following morning he says a Mass for the villagers. Before he can escape, the police enter the village. Marcía claims him as her husband, and his child, a girl seven years old, names him as her father. In that manner, because of his...
(The entire section is 1182 words.)