Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
A Whiskey Priest
A Whiskey Priest who, though never named, goes sometimes under the assumed name of Montez. For eight years a fugitive from the anticlerical regime in a small Mexican province, the Whiskey Priest has managed occasionally to celebrate mass, to baptize children, and to say the last rites for the dying. His great failing is drink, though he has also committed adultery in the town of Concepción, where he had his last parish. Pride and slothfulness have played an equal part in making him the last cleric in the province; he feels the honor of martyrdom, and he simply exists without a plan for escape. Finally, he is humbled by the knowledge that he is loved and protected wherever he goes, and the sacrifice of hostages for his surrender fixes in his mind a plan of escape. Yet he is not a free agent, and he falls into what he knows is a trap when called upon to administer the last rites to an American gunman. Freely admitting his cowardice and lack of vision, the priest dies with the sure knowledge that he has loved and discharged his duties with a semblance of dignity.
Father José (hoh-SEH), a defrocked priest who marries and renounces his religion. Obviously a coward, he refuses any participation in the religion he so easily gave up and so much regrets. He is the laughingstock of a village as the victim of an ill-tempered wife whose sexual entreaties symbolize the...
(The entire section is 641 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Power and the Glory Characters. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Themes and Characters
The conflict between the novel's two main characters, the "whisky priest" and the lieutenant, parallels the tension between the novel's two overlapping themes—the spiritual theme of religious faith and devotion, and the political theme of the Church's obligation to aid the poor. Although Greene seems to sympathize with the priest, and thus with the belief that the Church's primary obligation to the poor is spiritual rather than political or economic, his novel is more than a simple-minded tale of faith and devotion.
Greene never names the priest, referring to him only as the "whisky priest." In addition to being an alcoholic, the priest has fathered a child and thus has sinned in the eyes of the Church. He berates himself throughout the novel for being a "bad priest" and wonders if he is doing more harm than good by setting a bad example for his people. Yet he continues the work of the Church, even after all the other priests have gone into hiding or denied their faith and taken wives. Although he is an unlikely representative of God, the whisky priest says he stays in the region because if he were to leave "it would be as if God in all this space between the sea and the mountains ceased to exist."
Greene's choice of a whisky priest as hero underscores the novel's theme. The sacraments this priest administers are, according to Catholic teachings, as valid as those administered by the holiest of saints. When the priest is finally captured, he...
(The entire section is 805 words.)
The priest is the most complex character in the novel, and he seems credible enough as a person. Even his passivity seems believable: As an intelligent, pampered, perhaps not overly-robust child, he more or less drifted into the priesthood, drifted into becoming a bad priest, and in the end drifted into sainthood, almost because he could not think of anything else to do. Yet, most of the characterizations in the novel seem motivated by the functional needs of the story: The priest is, most of all, a priest. (He calls himself Montez, but the reader is never sure of his real name. At the very conclusion of the novel his "replacement" is interrupted "before the other could give himself a name"). The lieutenant is, simply, a lieutenant. The poor mestizo who betrays the priest is not given a name ("Judas" would be out of place in a Spanish speaking country). The American bank-robber and murderer, who is a Barabbas for this passion play, is simply "the Gringo." This lack of characterization is very unusual for Greene, who is generally admired for his psychological realism. Major Scobie, who goes through a spiritual crisis in The Heart of the Matter, is a much more fully drawn character than this priest, even though in the end he may be less lovable, and in other novels, such as The Quiet American (1955), Greene does a very admirable job of creating fully human characters in moments of psychological or emotional stress. Perhaps this "character-as-function-of-role" approach...
(The entire section is 293 words.)