Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Mexico. Country in which the entire novel is set. The novel uses psychological realism to depict the corruption and violence associated with the government’s revolutionary vision. That vision is portrayed by an unnamed police lieutenant, who considers himself the champion of hope and betterment and says that “life will never be the same” for the next generation as he pursues a fugitive priest.
In contrast, the priest is engaged in a survival struggle to bring continuity into the spiritual lives of Mexicans who are eager to extend their vision beyond their physical and material needs. Since the Mexican police have advertised a reward for the priest, Greene shows how the theme of trustworthy relationships can sustain hope in a corrupt and threatened environment.
Plaza. Central square of an unnamed Mexican city where a bust of a former president serves as a reminder of Mexican Revolution and the nation’s independence. The plaza leads to the river port that offers the priest an opportunity to escape to Vera Cruz on the coast. However, the priest’s decision to share a drink with Mr. Tench, then a child’s summons to his mother’s deathbed, supersede his original plan of escape. In the conclusion, the plaza becomes the site of the priest’s execution after the Mexican police arrest him.
Hotel. Hotel beside the river to which a beggar leads the...
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The story takes place during the 1930s, a time of totalitarian reign in Mexico. It is set south of Mexico City in the province of Tabasco. In his introduction to the 1962 edition of the book, Greene explains that he traveled in Mexico from 1937 to 1938 for the express purpose of writing a novel. Greene relates that the towns he visited are depicted in the novel: El Frontera, where the story opens; Tabasco, a prohibitionist town; Villahermosa, where he developed the character of the priest and discovered the prototype for the lieutenant; and Las Casas, where churches still stood although no priest was allowed to enter them.
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Greene uses a number of techniques in this novel that are particularly appropriate for its religious theme. For example, the priest is literally "called back" three times when he is on the verge of escaping, each time to administer the sacraments to a dying person. Repetition of plot motif is common to all mythologies, and the calling three times is particularly appropriate to the Christian theme of the novel (God calls Samuel four times, Peter denies Christ three times, and, most appropriate of all for this particular novel, at the end of Saint John's Gospel, Christ tells Peter three times that, if he truly loves Him, he should feed his sheep). Greene, usually a master of suspense, uses the self-consciously mythic quality of the story to create irony. The reader, as well as the priest, knows that the mestizo has to betray the priest, so that the priest can. attain martyrdom, but Greene can still tease the reader about when the betrayal will take place.
Greene self-consciously uses the conventions of the stories of saints' lives to counterpoint his own story. At the opening of the story, a woman is reading the story of a martyr to her children. Greene parodies the romantic nature of those stories: In her story, the martyr pardons his executioners and dies crying out, "Viva el Cristo Rey!" Then Greene undercuts the traditional story by telling the more realistic story of the whisky priest who spends the night before his execution drinking brandy and...
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Greene uses several techniques that complement his religious themes. For example, the priest is detained three times when he is on the verge of escaping, called back each time to administer last rites to a dying person. This kind of repetition is common to all mythologies, and the particular plot motif of calling three times is deeply rooted in the Bible. Greene, a master of suspense, plays myth against plot line. The reader, as well as the priest, knows that the halfcaste must betray the whisky priest so that the priest can attain martyrdom, but no one is sure when the betrayal will happen or how it will affect the symbolic crucifixion.
Greene also uses the conventions of the stories of the saints' lives. At the opening of the story, a woman is reading the story of a martyr to her children. Greene parodies the romantic nature of these stories: the martyr pardons his executioners and dies crying out, "Viva el Cristo Rey!" At the end of The Power and the Glory, Greene echoes the stories of the saints by telling the more realistic story of the whisky priest's final night, which he spends drinking brandy and wishing he were somewhere else. The reader is prepared to accept the whisky priest as a saint without benefit of embellishments on the story of his life. Yet, as the same woman recounts the story of the priest's execution, she records him as shouting "Viva el Cristo Rey!" Although the woman's version seems hopelessly romanticized, it is consistent...
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Greene's novel, The Power and the Glory, and his travel book, The Lawless Roads (1939), published in the United States as Another Mexico (1939), were the result of a trip he took to Mexico during 1938 and 1939. The immediate social concerns of the journey and the novel are straightforward: Greene went with the express purpose of investigating the persecution of the Catholic Church in some of the southern Mexican states. The novel tells the story of a fugitive priest, the last in his area, who knows he will be executed if he is captured, but chooses to stay and administer the sacraments to his people (the travels of the priest in the novel parallel Greene's own). It is not surprising that Greene seems sympathetic to the position of the Church: Greene had converted to Roman Catholicism in 1926. Although his interest in the Church had begun because of his relationship with a Catholic woman, Vivien Dayrell Browning, whom he married in 1927, Greene maintains "my conversion was not in the least an emotional affair. It was purely intellectual. It was the arguments of Father Trollope at Nottingham which persuaded me that God's existence was a probability." Also, speaking of his journey to Mexico, Greene has said that his religious faith "is all bound up with my loyalty to the underdog — and so it has been ever since. In Mexico the underdogs were the Catholics," This religious commitment to the underdog — what Pope John Paul II refers to as "a preferential option for the...
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Topics for Discussion
1. In what ways does the lieutenant believe the Church has failed the people? What evidence does the novel produce to support his view?
2. Why does the revolutionary government want to outlaw the Church?
3. In what ways does the whisky priest exhibit cowardly behavior? In what ways is he brave?
4. Is it possible that the whisky priest is both a "good man" and a "bad priest"? Explain this conflict.
5. What characteristics does the lieutenant exhibit that make him out to be a "good man"?
6. Why is it necessary to the conclusion of the story for the priest to be executed?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Greene establishes loose parallels between his characters and some from the Bible. Explain how the whisky priest plays the role of Christ; the mestizo Judas, the lieutenant, Caesar; and Father Jose, the Apostle Peter. How does the story of the Good Samaritan serve as a foil? Are there other biblical allusions?
2. The title is taken from the Lord's Prayer. Analyze the importance of prayer (and the absence of it) in the novel. What does the title mean?
3. A principal theme is the power of corruption and the potential for redemption. Explain how the novel develops this theme.
4. Research and report the history of the repression of the Catholic Church in Mexico or in other countries.
5. How does Greene develop his objections to a totalitarian government? What does he suggest that the Church's role should be under such conditions?
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Even though Greene parodies conventional, sentimental stories of saints' lives, the novel does stand in that tradition, and, even though it is not as sentimental as much popular religious literature, it has much in common with the Quo Vadis? legend, in which Saint Peter, escaping his imprisonment in Rome, is confronted by the risen Christ. When Peter asks Christ, quo vadis? (where are you going?), Christ replies "to Rome, to be crucified," and Saint Peter follows him back to Rome and his own martyrdom, just as the priest follows his calling back to his imprisonment and martyrdom.
Yet Greene's departure from conventional piety, in making his priest a "sinful" man, has helped lead modern Catholic literature in a new, less sentimental direction. Evelyn Waugh, another English Catholic, published Brideshead Revisited, certainly an unsentimental view of Catholicism in 1945, slightly after The Power and the Glory, and orthodox Catholic American writers such as Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy have continued the unsentimental trend. Perhaps the closest parallel to Greene's priest is the title character of Georges Bernanos' novel, Diary of a Country Priest (1937). Although the French writer's priest is not so spectacularly sinful as Greene's, he does not appear to be heroic, and it is only the reader, not his parishioners, who can understand his true saintliness.
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The Power and the Glory was adapted for the screen by Dudley Nichols and directed and produced by John Ford as The Fugitive in 1947. Although Ford is considered a great filmmaker, the movie was not commercially successful, and it is considered by many critics to be Ford's weakest film. The film did receive some good reviews when it was first released, notably from the New York Times, which called it a "thundering modern parable on the indestructibility of faith." But the film tried to cater to conventional expectations of priestly conduct: Henry Fonda, as the priest, is a stronger person than Greene's character, and the lieutenant, who is portrayed as a complete fanatic, is made the father of the illegitimate child. These attempts to purify the priest rob Greene's vision of its power. On the other hand, in 1961 CBS produced a television version that was more faithful to the novel, and viewers were outraged at Sir Laurence Olivier's portrayal of the priest. The television adaptation cast George C. Scott as the lieutenant and Julie Harris as Maria, the woman with whom the whisky priest fathered a child.
Greene has written a number of other "Catholic" novels, of which The Heart of the Matter is generally considered the best. In this novel, Major Scobie, basically a good, honest man, is driven to suicide by pride, love, and perhaps a mistaken sense of duty. The religious question of the novel is whether Scobie, a Catholic, might...
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For Further Reference
Allain, Marie-Francoise. The Other Man. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983. A series of interviews with Graham Greene.
Allott, Kenneth, and Miriam Farris. The Art of Graham Greene. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1951. This book on Greene remains one of the best, despite its essentially thematic approach. The chapter titles are chosen to illustrate Greene's "obsessive" subjects: the terror of life, the divided mind, the fallen world, and the universe of pity. Given their rather narrow focus, the readings are remarkably penetrating and cogent.
Consolo, Dominick P. "Graham Greene: Style and Srylistics in Five Novels." In Graham Greene: Some Critical Considerations, edited by Robert O. Evans. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1963. Console's pioneering study of four "Catholic" novels and The Quiet American provides a detailed, rigorous analysis of Greene's recurring techniques of characterization, narrative viewpoint, structure, and syntax.
DeVitis, A. A. Graham Greene. New York: Twayne, 1964. DeVitis mounts a vigorous attack on critics who treat Greene's work as a species of theological argument.
Hoggart, Richard. Speaking to Each Other. London: Oxford University Press, 1970. Focusing on The Power and the Glory as representative of Greene's novels, Hoggart analyzes the "seedy" setting, the "allegorical" symbols, the "nervous, vivid, astringent" style, the puppet-like...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Allott, Kenneth, and Miriam Farris. The Art of Graham Greene. New York: Russell and Russell, 1963. Envisions The Power and the Glory as a spiritual way of the cross, as the priest separates himself from his known life.
Atkins, John. Graham Greene. London: Calder and Boyars, 1966. One of the most engaging studies of Greene, this book relates some of Greene’s earlier, less-known works to his major novels.
Baldridge, Cates. Graham Greene’s Fictions: The Virtues of Extremity. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000. This first evaluation of Greene’s work since his death in 1991 examines his conception of God as revealed through his fiction.
Bosco, Mark, S.J. Graham Greene’s Catholic Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Explores Greene’s theological vision and his achievement as a master of the Catholic novel prior to Vatican Council II.
DeVitis, A. A. Graham Greene. Boston: Twayne, 1986. A fine introductory study of Greene’s major novels with a sensitive reading of Greene’s Catholicism and how it influences his fiction. More than a dozen pages dedicated to The Power and the Glory.
Kelly, Richard. Graham Greene. New York: Frederick Ungar,...
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