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 entire section is 734 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Power and the Glory Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
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...
(The entire section is 1182 words.)
The Power and the Glory chronicles the plight of a Catholic priest who, for eight years, has continued to say Mass and administer the sacraments, even though Mexico's revolutionary government has outlawed these practices. Knowing that he will be executed if he is caught, the priest moves from village to village carrying on the work of the Church. He is relentlessly pursued by a nameless young lieutenant of police, a revolutionary who believes that the new government can help mitigate poverty; the lieutenant despises the Church for ministering to spiritual needs while ignoring poverty. The priest, however, believes that faith in the Church's teachings provides hope for the poor and oppressed. Because he considers himself a sinner, the priest empathizes with others who are weak, and feels compelled to fulfill his priestly duties despite the threat of execution. But the lieutenant sets traps for the priest by killing hostages in the villages where the priest has held Mass and by luring him with liquor. The inevitable confrontation between these two men brings the novel to a dramatic climax.
(The entire section is 178 words.)