The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
CHAPTER 1 Summary
The chapter opens with Tench, the dentist, who is looking for his ether cylinder, which is supposed to have come by ship. The first description of the scene is ominous. Vultures are looking down from a rooftop on a scorching Mexican waterfront; they are in search of carrion. Tench throws a stone and hits them. One vulture flies over the plaza, over the bust of an ex-president, and toward the river and the sea.
Tench is an Englishman settled in Mexico. He is seen walking towards the quay, sweating in the heat. A few important landmarks are mentioned, like the treasury, which has once been a church, the barber's, the dentist's, the warehouse, and the customs. Tench is watching the ship, General Obregon, being unloaded. The main cargo is beer; he counts one hundred forty cases of it being unloaded. Prohibition is the law of the region, and only beer is permitted.
Tench spots a pretty young girl with a fine thin figure. Her smile reveals a gold tooth. He exclaims, "My God, a pretty one." Someone asks in English, "What did you say?" Tench looks at the stranger with surprise. He is delighted to hear English and finds out that the stranger has learned it in the U.S. The man has "a hollow face with a three days beard"; he is a small man dressed in a shabby, dark city suit, carrying a small attaché case. He has a novel under his arm. He gives an impression of unstable hilarity. Tench asks the stranger whether he has arrived by the boat or whether he is departing. The stranger gives evasive answers. In the course of the conversation, he finds out when the ship is likely to sail to Vera Cruz. He even mentions the name of a man called Lopez, and Tench informs him that the man has been shot dead because he helped "undesirables . . . to get out." Lopez's girl friend now lives with the chief of police.
Tench wishes to know the stranger's profession, but again he gets an evasive answer. Tench asks if he has a drink in his attaché and is told that the attaché contains only medicines. The stranger claims to be a quack. A little later he whispers to Tench that he has some brandy in his pocket. Tench takes the stranger to his hut, where he lives and works, and shows him around, the dental operating room and all his equipment. He tells the stranger, "I'd like to show you . . . you're an educated man." The stranger notices a stained glass window and exclaims, "The window is very beautiful." The stained glass pane shows a Madonna gazing out. Tench explains he has picked it up when the church was sacked.
Tench brings two glasses; they settle down in the rocking chairs and drink the stranger's brandy. Tench warns him that the water is unsafe to drink and complains of a stomachache. Tench observes that the stranger's teeth are yellow and need attention. "The man's dark suit and sloping shoulders reminded him uncomfortably of a coffin, and death is in his curious mouth already."
Tench talks about his estranged wife and two sons, one of whom is dead. The stranger asks if the boy has died in a Christian country. Tench answers the question positively but says it hardly mattered. The stranger asks if Tench keeps in touch with his family. Tench explains he has given up writing to them since he could not send any money nor help in any other way. The two men talk nostalgically about the past when the Red shirts had not yet taken over. The stranger comments that those were happier times because they had God.
While they sit and drink, a child, with two mules, comes to the door. He is looking for a doctor since his mother is sick. The stranger is reluctant to go, and Tench asks the child to leave. He feels if the woman is dying, no one can be of any help, but the stranger gets up and accompanies the child. Tench reminds him that he will miss the boat, and the stranger answers that perhaps he is meant to miss it. Tench tells him that the ship will be back again after a few days. Tench also comments that the stranger is lucky because he can escape; Tench does not think he'll get away. No matter how hard Tench tries to save money, it is never enough due to the constant devaluation of the peso. The stranger departs saying, "I will pray for you".
After the stranger's departure, Tench finds a book he left behind. The book is La Eterna Martir. Tench is quite taken aback when he finds that the book is in Latin. He does not have the heart to burn the book, so he hides it. Tench suddenly remembers the ether cylinder. He runs to the quay, but the ship has just left.
Far away, the stranger is riding a mule across the damp swamp towards the home of the child and the dying mother.. He hears the siren of the General Obregon and feels abandoned. He has tried to escape but failed. The chapter ends with his prayer, "Let me be caught soon, let me be caught".
The chapter introduces the protagonist in the form of a stranger, which is very appropriate since nowhere in the book is his name revealed. His appearance is not very priestly; he wears a suit and is unshaven and unclean. Little else is learned about this stranger in the opening chapter, but there are a few hints that allow the reader to surmise that the stranger is a Priest: 1) when Mr. Tench tells him that one of his children is dead, the Priest asks him whether he died in a Christian country; 2) when asked about his occupation, the stranger quite unwillingly admits that he is some sort of doctor (perhaps a healer of souls); 3) the book that he leaves behind, The Eternal Martyr, is in Latin (and is really just a cover for the religious book he hides inside); and 4) he ends the chapter in prayer. This closing prayer, however, raises the question of what this man is trying to escape and why does he want to be caught.
Mr. Tench is developed in more detail. He is forgetful, not remembering the ether cylinder that seems important to him. He lies without hesitation, telling the custom official he will have his false teeth ready by evening. He does not appear well, for he constantly clears his throat and spits into the street. He is preoccupied with money, especially since his dental practice does not do well. Tench feels trapped in a futile existence in Mexico, and he is unable to save enough money to escape.
There are several themes that this chapter foreshadows. To begin with, Tench thinks about the sham of government prohibition in the province. The reader clearly sees cases of beer being unloaded from the General Obregon (named after a past Mexican President); but it is a government ship, and the government has produced the beer, which is very expensive. There is, therefore, smuggling of hard liquor. Later on in the book, the protagonist is accused of smuggling and is punished. The next theme that the chapter touches upon is the loneliness of Tench, who has lived by himself for fifteen years. He is, therefore, pleased to see the pretty girl on the ship. Later in the book, it is loneliness that leads the priest to the sin of adultery. The third theme is Tench's inability to help his children, for he lives too far from them. The protagonist will be in a similar predicament later in the book.
It is important to note several things in this chapter. First, Tench reveals the religious persecution that is going on in Mexico when he tells about a man named Lopez who has been recently shot for helping priests to escape. (Ironically, the Whisky Priest has counted on Lopez to help him.) Secondly, there are many references to disarray and decay, such as the disorganized dentist office, the rotting General Obregon, and the sandy brandy
glasses; this decaying imagery is symbolic of the moral decay of Mexico. Third, there is much animal imagery, all negative, such as the pompous turkeys, the hungry sharks offshore, and the circling buzzards that foreshadow death (particularly the Priest's death). Fourth, there are references to rotting teeth, reflective of the rotting souls beneath; even the Priest's teeth are rotting, for he is not free from sin. Finally, Tench acts as a celebrant, pouring the wine and urging the Priest to drink; it is ironic that he unknowingly performs these rituals for a priest, who does need to be forgiven for his sins.
CHAPTER 2 Summary
This chapter develops around four different scenes. The first opens with a squad of police marching behind an ambitious, young Lieutenant. The squad marches into the barracks and waits for orders. The Lieutenant asks for the chief of police (the jefe), who is reported to be somewhere in town playing billiards. Irritated by the news, the Lieutenant sits down at his desk and asks for the prisoners to be brought in. The prisoners have committed offenses like getting drunk, defacing election posters, or wearing a holy medal. They are fined five pesos and allowed to go. Those who don't have money are made to clean the lavatories.
The chief of police enters and informs the Lieutenant that the Governor is disturbed because a Priest from the Concepcion Parish is still at large. The Lieutenant is shocked, for he was under the impression that all the Priests remaining in his province had been killed. He believed that the only fugitive from the law was James Calver, a bank-robber and a murderer, known as the Gringo.
The Lieutenant wishes to know if there is a photograph of the Priest. The jefe shows him an old newspaper clipping with a picture of the Priest, attending a holy communion and appearing plump. The chief of police informs the Lieutenant that the Priest has recently tried to escape to Vera Cruz. The chief also informs him that the Priest was born in Carmen, the son of a storekeeper, and had spent six years at an American Seminary. He, therefore, speaks English.
The Lieutenant's own childhood comes back to him. He remembers corrupt priests who preached sacrifice, but did not practice it. He remembers how the priests took money from the poor who had committed minor sins. The Lieutenant decides that priests are much more harmful than bank robbers or murderers. He then tells the jefe that he can easily catch the remaining priest if he is only authorized to do so. When the jefe inquires about his proposed plan of action, the Lieutenant reveals he would take a hostage from each village the Priest has visited. If the hostage refuses to disclose where the priest is, he or she would be shot. The chief responds by saying, "A lot of them would die, of course". The Lieutenant indicates that it would be great to be rid of the religious devotees.
There is a brief description of the Lieutenant going home to a lodging that is almost like a prison cell. His bed is made of packing cases covered with a mat and a sheet. It is prayer time in the village, but the Lieutenant does not believe in a merciful God. He does not believe that God made man; instead, man evolved from the animals. He thinks about the last Priest who was shot. He was a monsignor who looked down on ordinary priests and was conscious of his superiority until the end. He also thinks about the current disarray of the Catholic Church. Many priests have been shot; some have escaped from Mexico; the Bishop is in hiding in Mexico City; and a few priests, like Padre Jose, have succumbed to the Governor's orders, left the priesthood, and married. The Lieutenant, who dislikes all priests, really looks down on the ones who have not endured pain for the Church.
The scene then shifts to the Academia Commercial. The woman, who was recently ill and tended by the protagonist, is reading aloud to her children from a book about a pious, young Mexican martyr named Juan. The story is artificial from beginning to end; young Juan accepts all criticism and bravely and loudly proclaims Christ when he is being unfairly executed. Her two young daughters listen with interest, but her fourteen year old son, Luis, interrupts with many questions that tire her: Was Juan really a saint? Was Padre Jose also a saint? The mother grows annoyed and tells him not to mention Padre Jose again, because he is disgraceful for leaving the priesthood and marrying. Luis then asks whether the priest, who has recently visited them, is disgraceful too. The mother obviously thinks kindly of this priest even though he "smelt funny" according to her youngest daughter. In the evening, the mother expresses concern over her son to her husband, but he does not take an interest in her problems or her pious projects. He is very practical and feels that the family must just adjust itself to the changed political environment of the country.
The scene next shifts to the home of Padre Jose, a fat, old ex- priest who has married his housekeeper in order to escape persecution. He receives a pension from the Government, but has no work to do. He lives with a constant feeling of guilt over having deserted the priesthood and feels he is a sinner who can never expect absolution. At the end of the chapter, he is being called to bed by his nagging wife, while the village children mock him.
There are many comparisons and contrasts to be noted in this chapter. The Lieutenant looks at the newspaper photograph of the Whisky Priest and sees a plump, well-dressed man (and believes that to be the image he must pursue). Ironically, the priest, due to the harshness of his situation, is now gaunt, unclean, and unshaven, which is a total contrast to the Lieutenant's appearance in his crisp, neat uniform. The trim Lieutenant is also contrasted to the fat jefe and to his soldiers, who are poorly disciplined and poorly attired. The Lieutenant is developed as a fanatic in his belief in the Government, much like a religious fanatic (or priest) has an ardent belief in his faith. But the Lieutenant's "religion" has no meaning or depth. He believes in nihilism and thinks that human beings evolved from animals for no purpose.
The Lieutenant has been scarred, both literally and symbolically, in his childhood. His crooked nose and the mark on his face reveal the harsh reality he has endured. As a result, he wants to purge the Government from all things that cause pain, especially organized religion. He is devout in his mission; by contrast, his passive boss, the jefe, is not committed, and cares more about his bad tooth (the symbol of a bad soul) than his duties. He is similar in appearance and manner to the fat, cowardly Padre Jose; but the jefe is more dangerous, for he simply carries out orders without thinking. Young Luis' father is also developed as a contrast to his wife. He accepts the reality of the current regime and the weakness of the human condition; she desperately clings to her religion, criticizes any lapse in faith, and hopes for a return to the old ways. He forgives the "whiskey breath" of the priest and the unfaithfulness of Padre Jose; she is mortified by both. Padre Jose is intended to be a contrast to St. Joseph, the representative of the happy family in Catholicism.
The decaying imagery, begun in the first chapter to symbolize the decay of Mexico, is continued in this second chapter: the priest is disarrayed and decaying, as symbolized by his appearance and his "whiskey breath"; the plaster has been chipped from the walls in the police office, revealing the "dirt" (truth) beneath the facade; and the soldiers are a disorganized, motley crew. Even nature seems to frown on the place, for it is surrounded by swamps and rivers.
CHAPTER 3 Summary
Captain Fellows works for the "Central American Banana Company" and lives with his wife Trix and daughter Coral. The chapter opens with Fellows returning home to his wife who is always ill. She greets him through the mosquito net that surrounds her bed and informs her husband that their daughter is with the policeman. Fellows tells Trix that on such an occasion she should have been up instead of leaving the daughter with a stranger.
Fellows meets the Lieutenant, who is looking for a fugitive Priest. Coral has convinced him that no fugitive is hiding on their premises. Fellows is told to contact the police if he spots the priest in the vicinity. The policeman then reminds Fellow that he is "a foreigner living under the protection of our laws. We expect you to make a proper return for our hospitality." Fellows is not a Catholic, so the Lieutenant can trust him to report back if he sees the priest.
After the departure of the Lieutenant, Coral takes Fellows to the barn where she has sheltered the Priest without her mother's knowledge. Fellows is obviously annoyed at his presence. The Priest promises to leave, but Fellows cautions him to do so after dark. He offers him food but the Priest asks for some brandy. Fellows is irritated by he request, and when he leaves the barn with Coral, he says, "What a religion . . . Begging for brandy. Shameless."
Coral offers to take some food to the barn, as it would be unsafe if the servants were sent.Coral takes some food and a bottle of beer to the Priest. The Priest tells her that he had tried to escape a month ago, but felt obligated to attend to a sick woman instead of leaving. The Priest claims to have lost track of time, and Coral tells him that it is the seventh of March. The Priest says that in another six weeks the rains will start, and he will be safer then. Coral asks why he doesn't surrender, and he tells her that the thought of pain prevents him from doing so. He also feels it is his duty to save himself. Coral suggests that he can denounce his religion and gain safety. The Priest cannot leave the priesthood. "I am a priest, it's out of my power."Coral offers to bring some of her father's brandy, but the Priest tells her she must not steal. He then says he must leave. Coral tells him that he can always come back to her for protection. The Priest asks if she will pray for him, but she tells him that she does not believe in God. The Priest promises to pray for her. According to Coral, the Priest does not sound afraid, but the reader can tell the level of fear beneath the brave words: "A little drink will work wonders in a cowardly man. With a little brandy, why I'd defy the devil." Coral says her final good-bye to the Priest and promises to help him at any cost.
The last scene in this chapter is in an extremely poor village with about half a dozen mud huts. Two are unoccupied and in ruins, and two are inhabited. Pigs occupy another. The last hut is used to store maize. The Priest, carrying his attaché case, comes into the village and is recognized by an old man who kisses his hand. He takes the Priest into the hut and assures him of safety; he will have a boy keep a watch.The Priest is exhausted and wants to sleep. He asks for spirits, but the only drink the old man can offer is maize coffee. The Priest can barely keep his eyes open, but the old man does not let him sleep. He tells the Priest that for five years they have seen no man of the cloth. His son has not been baptized, and the adults have not confessed or celebrated mass. The Priest, very sleepily, hears confession before going to bed. Before leaving the village the next day, he exchanges his suit of clothes with the old man's.
The first scene in this chapter revolves around Captain Fellows and his family. Fellows is described as unintelligent and irresponsible. Unaware of his own shortcomings, Fellows is a happy person and believes himself to be "at one with nature . . . at home anywhere." In contrast, his wife, Trix, is an unhappy and unhealthy woman. With such parents, it is surprising that Coral is so capable. She is independent and capable of making decisions. She even takes care of her family. In the way she handles the Lieutenant, she shows tremendous maturity and succeeds in preventing him from searching the premises of the farm. She is also shrewd enough not to tell her mother about the fugitive Priest because she cannot be trusted. Coral knows her father is more tolerant.Fellows is shocked and displeased when he learns that Coral is hiding the Priest. He is horrified when the Priest begs for brandy. The innocent Coral does not understand why it is wrong for the Priest to ask for brandy while there is nothing wrong when Fellows drinks it. Fellow also tells Coral the Priest must leave. In his shallowness, he does not want to get involved and he fears the authorities. In contrast, his daughter, who does not believe in God, shelters the Priest out of human compassion. The she promises to offer him protection whenever he needs it. The Priest is touched by her kindness.This is the only scene in which a definite date is mentioned. Coral has given protection to the Priest on the seventh of March. Approximately a month ago, he has tried to escape to Vera Cruz. In another month to six weeks the rains are expected. The Lieutenant wishes to capture him before the rains, which will turn the entire province into an impenetrable swamp. The Priest knows the rains will help to save him.
The next scene in the village is significant. They wish to protect the Priest, but at the same time, they are afraid of the wrath of the soldiers and the police if the Priest is discovered in their midst. The old man, obviously advanced in age and close to death, is almost frantic to confess his sins and receive absolution, especially since it has been five years since they have seen a Priest. (Ironically, the last priest was Padre Jose.) He insists that all the villagers say confession with him; he then makes the Priest perform his duties, in spite of his extreme exhaustion.
Throughout the chapter, there is animal imagery. A buzzard flies above Fellows' boat. Coral threatens to "set the dogs" on the Lieutenant. The Priest eats like an animal, foreshadowing his later fight with a dog over a scrap of food. The rats run through the huts in the village, with one stopping to stare at the Priest. The most significant animal image is the comparison of the Priest to a bull in the ring. When he comes into the village, everyone comes out to stare at him. "It is like a bull-fight. The animal is tied and . . . they waited for the next move. They were not hard-hearted; they were watching the rare spectacle of something worse off than themselves." This comparison of the Priest with a bull is repeated in the last chapter of the book. "This is the arena, and the bull is dead, and there is nothing more to wait for any more."
CHAPTER 4 Summary
This chapter revolves around five scenes, each a flashback to a character previously introduced in the novel. The first scene is at Tench's home. He is debating whether he should write a letter to Sylvia, his estranged wife. He does not know who is still alive back home, and he is not sure that he wants a record that he is still alive. He tries to remember his wife but remembers her hats more clearly than he remembers her face. The last time they have communicated is when their little boy died. In the midst of his reverie, he hears the bell of the ship General Obregon. The sound reminds him of the stranger who wanted to take the boat. He wonders what has happened to him. The section ends with the arrival of a patient.
The next scene reveals Padre José at the Church yard, amidst some graves. The picture is one of decay: "it is like looking into the kitchen of a house whose owners have moved on, forgetting to clean the vases out." Ironically, he feels a sense of intimacy in the cemetery, where "you could go anywhere and see anything. Life here has withdrawn altogether." Padre José happens to walk in just as a family has assembled for the burial of a small child. They entreat Padre José to say a prayer for the little one. José is in a dilemma. He wishes to do his duty but is afraid of persecution. He drops to his knees and begs, "Leave me alone--I am unworthy. Can't you see I am a coward." He is oppressed by the feeling of humiliation, caused by his decision to leave the priesthood and get married. He is now in "the grip of the unforgivable sin, despair."
The next scene describes an orthodox mother reading out loud to her three children. The story is about young Juan, who is ordained during the anti-Catholic rule of President Calles. Juan is ultimately shot and becomes a martyr. The two daughters are engrossed in the pious story. The son Luis, however, interrupts and questions the story. He does not believe a word of it, which exasperates his mother. She sends Luis away to his father, who listens sympathetically to his complaints about the tale. He tells his son that things are now very different; when the church was allowed in Mexico, people had deep faith and were willing to die for their religious beliefs. Luis then asks his father if Villa, Obregon, and Madero (political heroes) are also martyrs. The father is surprised that Luis knows all those names. Luis tells his father that when he plays with his friends, they pretend to be these heroes. Luis wants to know whether his father is angry with him for his thoughts. His father answers by saying, "What's the good? It's not your fault. We have been deserted." The scene ends with the boy watching the undernourished soldiers marching out of step.
The next scene is set on the Fellows' farm. Mrs. Fellows, in her rocking chair, is trying to teach Coral from a correspondence course called Private Tutorials. She gives up her efforts because she has a headache. Coral puts the books away. She then surprises her mother by asking her if she believes in God and the Virgin birth. The mother asks who she has been talking to. She is unaware that Coral is capable of reading things on her own and equally capable of thinking about serious ideas. Coral, however, does understand her mother; she knows that her mother is incapable of answering questions that need profound thought. Coral leaves her mother, gives orders to the Cook for lunch, goes to the warehouse to inspect the alligator skins, looks at the mules in the stables, and returns home. She suddenly realizes it is Thursday, the day the bananas are sent to the quay. Not seeing her father anywhere, she takes charge of the situation, sits with the ledger, and supervises the dispatch of the bananas. It is not the first time she has filled in for her absent father. She is always responsible and discharges her duties tirelessly. Now, for the first time, Coral feels tired. "An awful pain took her suddenly in the stomach . . . she felt the sense of responsibility for the first time like a load borne for too many years."
Attention is now focused on the Chief of Police who is playing billiards. The Lieutenant finds him with a handkerchief tied round his face to relieve the pain from a toothache. The Lieutenant wishes to speak to him in private so the chief leaves his game for the moment. The chief tells him that the governor has agreed to allow the Lieutenant freedom to plan his strategy for capturing the Priest; but the governor will hold him responsible if the Priest is not caught before the rains. The Lieutenant reminds him of his plan to take hostages and shoot them if necessary. The Chief, totally indifferent to suffering in others, agrees to the plan. The Lieutenant is happy to gain approval for his operations. It seems to the Lieutenant that all the world that he has cared about now lays at his feet. When the Lieutenant goes out into the street, he passes a hall containing religious murals. The Lieutenant says, "One day they"ll forget there ever was a church here." The Lieutenant's goal is to destroy the church completely and usher in a new future, based on rationality rather than religion.
As the Lieutenant walks alone towards the police station, a lemonade bottle, flung by a young boy, crashes at his feet. The Lieutenant asks the scared lad if he has thrown the bottle; the boy says yes and explains that it is supposed to be a bomb thrown at the Gringo. The Lieutenant smiles at him, making the child feel relaxed. The Lieutenant learns that the boy's name is Luis. Like all boys, he is interested in the Lieutenant's gun. He wants to know if the gun is loaded and if the Lieutenant has killed anyone with it. The Lieutenant explains that he is fighting for the children. He would eliminate from their childhood everything which has made him miserable, everything that is poor, superstitious, or corrupt. The Lieutenant soon goes on his way. When he arrives at the police station, he notices the circle of ink that has been added to the head of the Priest in the picture hanging on the wall. Ironically the circle of ink looks like a halo on the Priest, symbolic of sainthood.
This chapter gives more information about characters already introduced in the previous chapters. Tench, the dentist, is first seen in the chapter. He is not developed any further as a character. Instead, his continued feeling of futility is emphasized. He wants to move away from this country, but cannot afford to do so, and he wants to establish some contact with his estranged wife, but he is not sure how to do it. He is not sure he wants to write a letter, for it will be a record that he is still alive. His thoughts are interrupted by the bell of the "General Obregon," the ship missed by the priest.
The chapter next moves to Padre José's predicament. He has become the laughing stock of the province for having deserted the priesthood and getting married; even children mimic him and his wife. In the earlier chapters, Padre Jose was seen brooding; he is seen from a different perspective in this chapter. The author presents him in a dramatic scene at a cemetery, where a family is burying their child. They ask the father to pray for the boy. Padre José has the power, by virtue of his ordination, to perform the last rites; but because he has broken the rules of his faith and gotten married, he is disqualified to do so. Padre Jose is obviously torn between what is right and what he wants to do. It is significant that the dead person is a child, who generates greater emotional pull. But Padre José is a coward who is afraid of the law and afraid of his wife. His feelings of tenderness toward the family are inadequate to give him enough courage to defy either of them. Helplessly, he drops to his knees and asks the family to leave him alone, for he is a coward. Padre Jose is obviously a man in despair.
The next scene is about a mother who reads the pious story of Juan to her three children, one of them her son Luis. The mother is the one who was earlier dying, and the son is the one who comes with a donkey to fetch the priest from Tench's house. She and her daughters accept the story with blind faith, having no understanding of the true meaning of piety. Luis, on the other hand, does not believe such stories of martyrdom. Unlike his mother, he is given to questioning everything about religion until a real life experience converts him into a believer near the end of the novel. It is important to remember that religious books have been banned in the country; however, just like the illegal liquor, religious materials are regularly smuggled into the province and made available to the common people, like this family.
The fourth scene in the chapter returns to the Fellows farm. Once again, the mother and father are pictured as totally irresponsible, while the thirteen year old Coral acts maturely and manages much of what goes on in the Fellows household and business. She is more responsible than her parents and the staff that work at the warehouse. She takes care of the domestic responsibilities, ordering lunch, and even performs her father's job at the warehouse when he forgets it needs to be done. The word "play" has no meaning at all to Coral; for her, "the whole of life is adult . . . a picture of a doll's tea party . . . is incomprehensible like a ceremony she hadn't learned." At the end of her scene, however, Coral is very tired; she is tired of all the responsibility.
The final scene of the chapter revolves around the Lieutenant and his boss, the chief of police. The chief, who is totally irresponsible and unprofessional, is, as always, playing billiards. When the Lieutenant enters, his boss informs him that he can go ahead with his plans for locating the one last priest. The Lieutenant wishes to have written orders, but the chief responds, "Oh--not necessary. We know each other." In fact, he is too busy at billiards to take care of business.
The Lieutenant reminds his boss that his plan may necessitate killing some hostages that he plans to take. Again, the chief dismisses the information as unimportant. He is more worried about his toothache than bloodshed, ironically saying, "A little blood never hurt anyone." The Lieutenant, who means business, has no illusions about what he wants to accomplish. First, he must find and capture the last priest. Then he will go after the politicians; "even his own chief would one day have to go." It is significant to note that the Luis who questions the story of Juan's martyrdom comes up to the Lieutenant and admires his gun. With ironic contrast, Luis will spit on the Lieutenant's gun in the last chapter of the novel.
It is important to note that each character is this chapter shows ties to the past. Tench is thinking back to his estranged wife. Reflecting on the past is painful to him, but he prefers this feeling over having no feeling at all. Padre Jose is also pained by his past. He has chosen to desert the priesthood and marry, so he can insure his safety in the province. He is overcome with fear and despair about his past decision, and despair is the unforgivable sin, for it implies that God has been forsaken. Luis' father explains to his questioning son that things used to be very different in Mexico and people truly did believe so deeply in their religion that they would die for the faith. Because of the government actions, Luis has been deprived of seeing such genuine piety and faith. Coral Fellows is also deprived of a past. She has never been allowed to be a child; instead, she must direct the domestic responsibilities of the household and often fill in at the banana business for her absent father. The family in the cemetery is also deprived. Their child, Anita, does not only lose her past, but has lost her life. In the cemetery, the family also loses the chance to have a prayer said over her body, when Padre Jose is too cowardly to pray for them. In opposition to Padre Jose, the Lieutenant is not a coward. In the past, he has shown his courage in ridding the country of religion; now he plans the find and kill the final priest and then direct his efforts towards the politicians.
None of the characters who are affected by the past have a hope for the future either. The Tenches have only written to each other once since the death of their son, so there is little hope for a happy reunion between them, even if Tench does manage to escape from Mexico. Padre Jose, already in despair, can only look forward to more derision for deserting the church; he is also destined to inflict more despair, just as he did on Anita's family in the cemetery. Coral, who is studying to improve her future, finds the Private Tutorials a sham and her mother unwilling to help in her education. At age thirteen, she is already exhausted from her adult responsibilities, and since her parents will never change, there is little hope for an improved situation for Coral in the future. Luis' family also faces a bleak future. The mother refuses to acknowledge the changes in Mexico, and the father, although never very religious, misses the ceremonies of the church. He feels that none of them have anything under the new government; they are abandoned. Graham Greene very cleverly refers to Mexican history without making it very conspicuous. The Lieutenant passes the new hall built for the syndicate of workers and peasants. President Calles has actually formed the National Revolution Party, which is a coalition of labor and peasant organizations. The Party spreads political propaganda and denounces the church, just as the church spreads religious propaganda and denounces the government. Remember that the "clever murals" on the wall of the Party hall depict one priest caressing a woman in the confessional and another Priest sipping the sacramental wine.
CHAPTER 1 Summary
The Priest has traveled for more than twelve hours through river swamp and forest, pursued by soldiers. At a marshy clearing, he stops, washes his face in a brown pool, and looks at his reflection. "It is a form of humility--his own natural face hadn't seemed the right one. It is a buffoon's face, good enough for mild jokes to women, but unsuitable at the altar rail." The priest finally draws near to the place he most wants to be. It is the village where Maria lives with her child Brigitta, who is the priest's illegitimate daughter. After six years, it is a homecoming.
Much has happened in the six years since the Priest has seen Maria. One by one the Priest has had to discard all the canonical paraphernalia he has carried with him. Feast days and fast days were given up long ago; he then gave up his prayer book and his altar stone; now he gives up his priestly clothes. In the process, he has become an unwed father and an alcoholic, known as the Whiskey Priest. He criticizes himself for being a bad priest. Even when "every failure dropped out of sight and mind, somewhere they accumulated in secret--the rubble of his failures". His failures make him feel damned, and he wonders if he has the right to carry on the duties of a priest.
The first person to greet him in the village is Maria. She is shocked to see him in his present attire since he looks like a common man. The Priest asks about Brigitta, their daughter. Maria replies, "She's as well as the rest of us." Maria wonders why the priest did not go to Monte Cristo, instead of coming to the village. The Priest wonders about the rest of the villagers, who watch him from a safe distance, not coming to kiss his hand. Perhaps they do not recognize him, for last time he received a warm welcome from everyone. Then Maria announces to the waiting people, "This is the father," a statement filled with double meaning, for he is a priest and Brigitta's father. One by one, the people come and kiss his hand. He tells each adult, "I am glad to see you." Then, the children come and kiss his hand. One of the young girls has been "sharpened by hunger into an appearance of delivery and malice beyond her age." He does not realize it, but this is his daughter.
One of the men in the village wants to know if the priest plans to stay long and suggests that he go further north to Pueblito. He is tired, and Maria protests by saying, "Of course he'll stay here tonight." The Priest can sense that he is not welcome. Almost as a bribe to win favor, he offers to celebrate mass and hear confession. The villagers inform him that Montez has been taken as a hostage and shot at Concepcion. The Priest then realizes he will be an "unwelcome danger" wherever he goes.
Maria takes him into her hut and gives him some brandy, which she has saved for him. The Priest broods over his plight. Many children of this village have never seen a priest and this would be an opportunity to "take God in their mouths from him." He then wonders if a sinner like him has the right to teach them about God. On the other hand, "Wasn't it his duty to stay, even if they despised him, even if they were murdered for his sake"? His purpose is still to bring people to God.
The Priest meets his daughter and she asks him if he is the gringo. He does not know about the gringo, so Maria tells him about the man wanted for murder. He feels love for his daughter, a feeling that he has never felt for another human being. Nothing seems important to him now except the safety and well being of Brigitta. He thinks about his own childhood, when he was afraid of "too many things . . . and hated poverty as a crime."
Well before dawn, the people of the village assemble for mass and confession. After mass the Priest preaches on "the nature of joy and pain. About heaven, where there is no jefe, no unjust laws, no taxes, no soldiers and no hunger." The scene is dramatic. While he is preaching, the police are already approaching the village. When he raises the host and consecrates the wine (ironically, in a chipped cup), they can hear a horse whinnying. Maria has the presence of mind to clear the place of every last thing that could be associated with a priest. She nips the candle, puts away the cloth in the packing-case which served as the altar, and even gets rid of his attaché case. Finally, she makes him bite an onion so that his breath does not smell of wine.
Soon they hear a voice commanding all the villagers to come out of their huts. The Lieutenant has ordered some policemen to search the huts. The Lieutenant tells the assembled villagers that they are looking for two men, the Gringo and the Priest. He even tells them about the reward being offered for their capture. He tells them that the Priest is a traitor to the republic, and anyone who shelters him is also a traitor. He adds, "You're fools if you still believe what priests tell you. All they want is your money. What has God ever done for you? Have your children got enough to eat? Instead of food they talk to you about heaven. Oh, everything will be fine after you are dead, they say. I tell you every thing will be fine when they are dead, and you must help." The Lieutenant tells them that he is sure the Priest is hiding in their district. He also tells them that he has shot a hostage at Concepcion and is unafraid to do the same here.
One by one he summons the people and cross-examines them.
The Priest walks up to him, and the Lieutenant asks for his name. He says Montez, the same name of the hostage shot at Concepcion. He asks him his occupation, and the Priest says that he tills a piece of land. The Lieutenant asks if he is married, and before he can answer, Maria loudly announces that she is the wife. The Lieutenant examines his hands and smells his breath. The Lieutenant looks at his face and then looks at the photograph he has. The Lieutenant asks Brigitta, who is standing near him, if she knows the names of all the people; she says yes, but when asked, she cannot tell him the Priest's name. Maria cries out "Why, the child doesn't know her own name? Ask her who her father is." When the Lieutenant asks her the question, she looks at the Priest to indicate that he is her father. All the while the Priest goes on repeating an act of contrition. He is also tempted to surrender. The Lieutenant gives the people a last chance to confess that the Priest is among them. There is complete silence; the Priest looks down to facilitate anyone who might want to disclose his presence. No one speaks. The Lieutenant chooses a boy called Miguel as a hostage. His mother screams, "That's my boy. That's Miguel. You can't take my boy." The Lieutenant cannot oblige. The Priest offers himself, but the Lieutenant refuses to take him in exchange. The Priest can feel the hatred the people are beginning to feel for him. When the police go away, he says aloud, "I did my best. It's your job to give me up. What do you expect me to do? It's my job not to be caught". One of the villagers tells the Priest not to leave any wine behind; another woman suggests that he should escape to Las Casas. The Priest asks for his attaché case because there is something valuable in it; but Maria has already disposed of it. She tells him he can look for it in the rubbish heap. She also tells him, "Now perhaps you'll go--go away altogether. You're no good any more to anyone . . . Don't you understand father? We don't want you any more." The Priest believes in providence so he says, "Oh yes, I understand. But it's not what you want--or I want." Maria even suggests that in spite of being a bad Priest, he will end up becoming a martyr. The question of martyrdom has not occurred to him before. Finally, the Priest asks about Brigitta and whether Maria will bring her up as a Christian. Maria answers, "She'll never be good for anything . . . she's bad through and through."
The villagers prepare the Priest's mule, even loading it with bananas. He says good-bye and departs. Outside the village, he digs into the garbage heap and pulls out his attaché case. It has been given to him by his parish at Concepcion on the fifth anniversary of his ordination. He becomes aware of someone spying; he turns around and finds Brigitta. She tells him that everyone has made fun of her because her father does not work. He tries to explain that he does work as a priest. He is appalled when she says, "Pedro says you aren't a man. You aren't any good for women." The Priest says Pedro doesn't understand. She says, "Oh yes he does. He's ten and I want to know." Very enticingly she entreats the Priest, "Tell me." The Priest is dismayed at the rot that he can see in her heart and feels helpless to do anything about it. The only thing he can do is pray, "O God, give me any kind of death--without contrition, in a state of sin--only save this child." He goes down on his knees and tells her how he loves her and asks her to take care. She listens to him without protesting. He kisses her clumsily, bids farewell, and departs to the south on his mule.
The Priest follows the tracks of the police. He feels that if he goes slowly and does not overtake them, he will be safe. He isn't yet ready to surrender, for he feels the need to survive for the sake of his child. On his way, the Priest takes care not to stop or speak to anyone. After six hours, he reaches a village called La Candelaria beside one of the tributaries of the Grijalva River. Here again the vultures are perched on rooftops. He sees men in hammocks, and his mule, on its own, stops beside one of them. The Priest greets the man in the hammock, asks how far it is to Carmen, and inquires about a canoe for crossing the river. The man waves his hand to indicate that no canoe can be found here. The Priest asks him what the police were doing there, and the man tells him that they were looking for someone. The Priest casually asks about the reward for a Gringo. He also inquires if he can overtake the police if he goes towards Carmen. The man tells him that the police have crossed the river and gone in another direction. The Priest goes to the river, but the mule refuses to enter the water; he beats the stubborn animal with a stick, and it finally crosses reluctantly. As the Priest leaves, he hears the man in the hammock call to him, but he does not stop. After successfully crossing the river, the Priest falls asleep in the forest and dreams of a small girl in stiff muslin reciting her catechism, of a bishop, and of Montez. In his dream he realizes that he is in the wrong place and should have been at Concepcion. He feels a threat to the child. When he wakes up, he finds the Mestizo behind him. The Mestizo wants to go to Carmen too. He asks the Priest many questions, but he gives evasive answers. He is sure that the Priest is educated. The Priest, of course, denies it, saying that he is only a poor man. He wants to know where he is coming from, and the Priest says, from Concepcion. The Mestizo suspects that he is a priest. To confirm this, he says things like, "You talk like a priest," and "I am a very good Christian." He even addresses him as "father." He also offers to be the Priest's guide. The Priest feels guilty that he does not trust the man. When they agree to rest for the night, they enter a hut. The Mestizo says that he knows who the Priest is and that he doesn't need to be afraid of him. Since he is a good Christian, he cannot betray the Priest. The Priest knows, "He is in the presence of Judas" and fears going to sleep. The Mestizo lies down and keeps asking him all kinds of questions.
In a flashback, the Priest thinks about the dinner given in honor of the tenth anniversary of his ordination. The Priest is a picture of contentment with hopes of being put in charge of the Cathedral. There are bits of conversation from pious women, and he tells a very pious story about a dying girl. Everybody is happy.
As the Mestizo stirs, the Priest comes back to his present reality. He broods about the major changes that have taken place in his personal life as well as in the rest of the world. He compares himself to Padre José, the only other Priest around. In his opinion Padre José is perhaps a better man. He is not an intellectual; therefore, he does not talk much but is "simply filled with an overwhelming sense of God." He thinks of the difference in their respective backgrounds. Padre José is the son of a peon, whereas he is the son of a storekeeper. Padre Jose is also less ambitious. His attention again gets diverted by the Mestizo, who has a fever and is shivering. The Priest offers him his shirt, but the sick man refuses to take it. The Priest goes back to his reverie. Were he humble like Padre José, he could now be living with Maria. It is pride that has prevented him. Pride is also responsible for the fact that he has tried only half-heatedly to escape, and for "carrying God around at the risk of his life." He prays, "O God, forgive me- -I am a proud, lustful, greedy man. I have loved authority too much. These people are martyrs--protecting me with their own lives. They deserve a martyr to care for them--not a man like me, who loves all the wrong things." He tries to sum up what he has achieved in the past year. He has celebrated only four masses and heard about a hundred confessions.
The Priest decides he must escape. He tries to get out of the hut, but the Mestizo grabs his ankle. He wants to confess. The Mestizo gushes out all the sins he has committed. The Priest listens to him and then goes out in the dark to look for the mule. He has only a few matches left to help him on. When he finds his mule and is about to leave, the Mestizo catches up. The Priest is sympathetic, but he knows that the poor man will betray him for the reward. The Priest feels sorry for him again and offers for him to ride the mule. The Mestizo directly asks him if he is the Priest, and for the first time he says, "Yes."
As they near Carmen, the Priest leaves the Mestizo and walks ahead, advising the man to tell the police that he has seen the Priest. He tells him that the police will take good care of him for the information. The Priest walks into the city of his birth, confident that the police will not look for him there.
This chapter, the longest in the book, is a significant because it gives an in-depth look at the Priest. His actions, his interactions with other characters, and his own brooding self-analysis are all described. He examines his degenerated appearance when he looks into a brown pool and sees his "buffoon's face." When he enters the village and greets Maria, she returns his greeting with "you've changed . . .You look like a common man." The villagers watch him from a distance and come to kiss his hand only when Maria tells them, "This is father." Ironically, when the Lieutenant examines each man in the village, he has an old picture of the Priest for reference, but fails to recognize the Priest.
At this point in the chapter, the plot moves ahead. It is revealed that the Lieutenant has taken hostages from other villages, and at Concepcion he has shot Montez. While the Priest is celebrating mass in the village, the police surround the village. All the people, including the Priest, are ordered to assemble in the clearing. There is suspense when one by one the men are called for inspection. The Lieutenant not only examines hands but smells breath as well. Fortunately, Maria has given the Priest an onion to eat in order to cover the smell of wine. Greater suspense is added through Brigitta, who is likely to reveal the identity of her father. Maria's intervention is high drama. Not finding the priest, the Lieutenant takes Miguel as hostage, and Miguel's mother tearfully begs for her son's release. The Priest does make a feeble gesture and offers himself. Tension is released when the Lieutenant rides away. The Priest is no longer welcome in the village, and Maria tells him he is no good, adding to his feeling of guilt.
The Priest broods over the nature of love. He has slept with Maria in a moment of despair, and ever since he has felt guilty. For six years he has wondered about the women and his child. He now goes back to see them both. Brigitta has faired as well as the rest of them, but it is obvious that she is undernourished. The Priest is amazed at the strong feelings he has for his daughter and realizes it is the first time he has truly felt love. He also feels an "immense load of responsibility." He decides that being responsible for the souls of people is much lighter than battling against "small pox, starvation, men."
Before the police enter the village, the Priest is giving a sermon. He is talking about the nature of pain and suffering. He tells the villagers that the more they suffer, the closer they are to heaven. He blames the government for much of their suffering. When the Lieutenant speaks to the villager, he blames the priests for their troubles. This spoken conflict is the basic conflict of the entire novel. The Lieutenant and the Priest reveal another difference. When the Lieutenant talks to the villagers, he sees Brigitta standing near the Priest and says, "This child is worth more than the Pope in Rome." The Priest in one of his reveries feels that "this child is more important than the whole continent." When the Lieutenant refers to the child, he considers her a representative of all children; whereas the Priest, though concerned about all children, at that moment means only his child.
In the next section of the chapter, the Priest is again on his journey. On the way the mule stops on its own because a "fine green snake raised itself on the path and then hissed away into the grass." This literal snake in the grass foreshadows the appearance of the Mestizo. It is significant that he has only two "fang-like" yellow canines, visible at either end of his mouth. The Priest knows that this treacherous man is a Judas who will betray the Priest. As a result, this section is one of the gloomiest in the book. The swamp, the forest, and the darkness, although real, contribute to the gloom. The physical appearance of the Mestizo enhances the atmosphere of gloom. Vultures are again seen in the chapter, an omen of death in general and for the Priest in particular.
CHAPTER 2 Summary
The Priest is seen in a busy plaza, in a shabby drill suit, seated on a bench. A beggar asks him all kinds of questions in the course of the conversation. The Priest senses that the beggar can procure him some hard drink. He leads the Priest to the place where he can get wine. On the way, they pass the warehouse of the united Banana Company and see a squad of police marching. Amidst them he sees the Mestizo with his fang-like teeth visible prominently. The beggar informs him that perhaps they are taking a hostage. The beggar the Priest to a hotel to meet the governor's cousin who will supply the wine. When they reach the hotel, the governor's cousin is away playing billiards with the chief of police. The beggar keeps reminding the Priest that the governor's cousin is very influential and, therefore, should be offered a drink.
Finally the man returns. Bottles of brandy and wine are produced, and the governor's cousin and the chief of police drink freely. Unguarded in their drunkenness, they even talk about their holy communions and how happy everyone is. The Priest watches the bottles as they grow empty, but the men continue to talk. They discuss the governor wanting to capture the only remaining priest. The chief of police does not think a solitary priest can do any good or harm, but he says that they have found a man who can identify the Priest. He is sure that the Priest is in Carmen. Suddenly, in the midst of the conversation, the chief of police asks the Priest if they have met before. The priest denies any meeting and turns the conversation to hostages. Before they leave, the governor's cousin asks him to take away the bottles of brandy. The Priest hides it in his pocket and takes leave.
When the Priest leaves the hotel, it is raining. In the dark he sees a few red shirts (soldiers), and he accidentally bumps against one of them. The Priest apologizes, but as he tries to get away, his pocket gets caught and the bottle chinks. The soldiers try to catch him, but the Priest swiftly runs away. He goes to Padre José's place and asks for shelter. Padre José, scared of the police and also of his wife, refuses to give him shelter. He says, "I don't want martyrs here," and slams the door. The young soldier catches up and takes the Priest to the police station. He pleads guilty and is asked to pay a fine of five pesos. Since he does not have the money, they take him to the Lieutenant. He is sent to a stinking prison cell, and the priest knows that he is nearing the end of his journey.
This chapter is the lightest chapter in the book. Once again, the Priest changes his attire, and for the first time in the book, he is dressed in proper clothes, although by normal standards, "a shabby drill suit." In a state where there is prohibition, it is noteworthy that a beggar leads him to a hotel where smuggled drinks are easily available. The beggar is obviously involved in the smuggling activity. It is significant that the governor's cousin, as well as the chief of police drink with the Priest, and it is in the jurisdiction of the chief of police that the priest is taken prisoner for having a bottle of brandy in his pocket. While drinking, the Priest keeps on saying that his mother loved wine and he would like to take some for her.
Throughout the novel, the Priest has been sheltered by all kinds of people: strangers, acquaintances, believers, and non-believers. However, Padre José refuses to keep him when he tries to escape the soldiers. He explains to Padre José that the soldiers think he is a smuggler, yet Padre José does not help him. The Priest thinks maybe Padre José is nursing a grudge, so he says, "If I ever offended you José, forgive me. I was a conceited, proud, overbearing, bad priest. I always knew in my heart you were the better man." José's frustrated response is, "Go, I don't want martyrs here. I don't belong any more. Leave me alone . . . go and die quickly, that's your job."
In the past, the Priest has shed everything that signifies his vocation, except for a picture he has retained as a charm. This last relic, proof of his having been a priest, he drops at Padre José's as a soldier arrests him. Out of fear, he says an act of contrition but cannot concentrate. He realizes that such a last minute repentance over his previous act of adultery does not serve any purpose. He thinks of Brigitta and wonders what will become of her. It is significant that his sin is committed before the story begins. The reader has not seen him in the act--it is something that belongs to the remote past. This gains some sympathy for the Priest, for he has carried the burden of guilt for many years.
The Priest is face to face with the Lieutenant once again, but he does not recognize him. Instead, he is led to a prison cell by a sergeant who has a large key, an image of Saint Peter with the keys to heaven. The Priest is pushed into the cell; in the pitch darkness he cannot see anyone or anything. Once again Graham Greene is using darkness to symbolize an inability to understand the meaning of life and what is happening in it.
CHAPTER 3 Summary
The Priest, thrown into the prison cell in complete darkness, can hear voices. One asks, "Got a cigarette?" Another says, "Water quick." The Priest replies, "I have nothing at all." He feels his way with his foot through the many prisoners. He finds some empty space and sits down near an old man. The Priest learns he is in prison because he has a crucifix. He constantly calls out to Caterina, his illegitimate child, much as the Priest now cries out to Brigitta in his heart. The priests have not let him keep his child because they feel he is not a fit father; they have also made Caterina hate him. A woman's voice comments that they have done the right thing. The Priest says that is wrong because the sin is over and the priests should have taught her love. A woman's voice says the priests know what is right; the Priest disagrees and says, "I am a priest." At once, there is silence.
Before the old man's story is over, another begins to tell his story. A man goes up to him and says, "Your mother's a whore." To defend her honor, he smashes a bottle and hits the other man with it. The Priest tells him that it is terrible to kill a man. The voices then begin to discuss the Priest, and he hears various questions and statements about himself. "Do they know?," "You shouldn't have told us father, there are all sorts here. Murderers . . . ," and "Because I kill a man it doesn't mean . . . I'm not an informer." The Priest says, "There's no need for anyone to inform on me. That would be a sin. When it's daylight they'll discover for themselves."
The prisoners know the Priest will be shot. A woman asks if he is afraid, and he answers that he is. A man says that a priest shouldn't be afraid of death; after all everyone will have to face it. Someone comments that a toothache is worse, which reminds the reader both of Tench, the dentist, and the chief of police, who suffers from a toothache. The voice from the corner says, "You believers are all the same, Christianity makes you cowards." The Priest agrees and adds that he is a bad priest; therefore, he is afraid to die because of mortal sin. The Priest then says that if they could believe that the governor and the jefe do not exist and that the prison is a garden, then they could all be brave. But the governor and the jefe do exist and they are not in a garden but in a prison, therefore, all of them are not brave. A woman says, " I think, we have a martyr here." The Priest remembers Maria's words. He believes that it would be a mockery of the church if people like him were considered martyrs. In the forest hut, he was aware of the presence of Judas, but here in the prison cell he does not feel that way. "He is moved by an irrational affection for the inhabitants of the prison." He suddenly remembers the phrase, "God so loved the world . . ." Now, out of a genuine feeling of love, he addresses his fellow children as "my children." (Ironically, he was unable to call the people in Maria's village his children). The Priest's thoughts go back to Brigitta. He longs to see her again, but he knows he cannot.
The pious woman's voice is heard again saying, "A little drunk father . . . it's not so important." The Priest is concerned about pious women who are "extraordinarily foolish over holy pictures"; they are complacent about themselves but totally uncharitable. He wonders why she is there. He can hear her mutter something about the "Good thief." The Priest explains that the thief repented whereas he has lost the ability to repent, because "He couldn't say to himself that he wished his sin had never existed, because the sin seemed to him now so important and he loved the fruit of it." He needs a confessor to draw his mind slowly down the dark passages, which have led to grief and repentance. It is dark and he wishes to know how long it will be before dawn. They do not have clocks, and they've lost sense of time. He wants to know if they are kept in the cell all day. He is told they are let out to clean up.
He feels his time is up and perhaps one of them will betray him. He tells them about the handsome reward being offered. He wonders whether he is tempting them. Betrayal, he thinks, would be equal to murder; therefore, he is entitled to some compensation in this world if not in the next one. A voice says, "Nobody here . . . wants their blood money." The Priest is "touched by an extraordinary affection. He was just one criminal among the herd of criminals . . . He had a sense of companionship which he had never experienced in the old days when the pious woman tells him how stupid it is to tell thieves and murderers of the reward." A voice asks why she is there and she says, "I had good books in my house." The Priest tells her since she is better informed, she should be tolerant. One by one the prisoners begin to sleep. The old man falls to sleep leaning on his shoulder.
The Priest broods. He thinks his end is near, but at the same time, he is aware that God's ways are mysterious. If he can be of any use to anyone, God will save him once again; but he cannot even say mass, for the chief of police has drunk the wine. He is roused from his reverie by a pious woman who wants to make a confession. The Priest is taken aback since there is no privacy here for confession. While the two of them are talking, sounds of pleasure can be heard and the pious woman says, "Why won't they stop it? The brutes, the animals." The Priest tells her that it's no use saying an act of contrition with an uncharitable mind. He tells her that "suddenly we discover that our sins have so much beauty." The woman cannot understand the Priest, is convinced he is a bad priest, and is determined to write to the Bishop about him. He asks her to pray for him, and she retorts, "The sooner you are dead the better." She compares him to Padre José and says that they are responsible for making a mockery of the church. The Priest, on the other hand, compares her to the Mestizo and tries to analyze the circumstances which have made them who they are.
She is a spinster and has nothing at all.
The Priest falls asleep and begins to dream. He is being pursued; he bangs against a door but is not let in. He tries various passwords but can't find the right one. Then he suddenly realizes that he wants to go in because it is the house of a doctor whose help he needs because his child is bleeding to death. He bangs on the door shouting, "Even if I can't think of the right word, haven't you a heart? . . . The child is dying." The child looks at him and calls him an animal. He wakes up. He must have slept for a short while because the pious woman continues to talk. The Priest thinks again of escape, but he wants some sign that he is doing good or harm to the people. The long night finally comes to an end, and he can see faint faces. He observes all the people around him as he broods on the nature of life and death.
A voice calls out for Montez, and the Priest goes out. The sergeant orders him to empty the urine pails. As he does so, he notices Miguel has been beaten up. He notices that all the prisoners look at the ground as they pass him. As he is emptying the pails, he notices the Mestizo who calls out to him and asks why he is in prison. The Priest tells him that a brandy bottle is the cause. In short, the Mestizo is having a good time, ordering beer and food. He is a guest of the government who can identify the Priest. The Mestizo is clever; he will not identify the Priest now. If the Priest is already in prison, they will not give him a reward. The Mestizo will lead the police to him after he leaves the prison.
After his task is over he is led to the Lieutenant. This meeting is significant. The Lieutenant remembers the name Montez but does not recognize the Priest. He asks the Priest where he plans to go and is told, "God knows." The Lieutenant says, "God knows nothing." The Lieutenant wonders how he will live without money so he gives him five pesos. The Priest takes the money and considers it the price of a mass.
This is the most significant chapter in the novel, for it contains the story's climax. The cell "is very like the world: overcrowded with lust and crime and unhappy love, it stank to heaven." This is the place where the Priest accepts "the lowest depths of human degradation." Throughout life he has been preaching love and has mechanically called the people, "My Children;" yet he has not felt love or closeness. This confession of the Priest, in the darkness of the prison (much like the darkness of a confessional), gives him a new perspective. Ironically in the prison cell, he experiences companionship. He is among equals, fellow sinners; therefore, he feels an "irrational affection" for the prisoners. When he says "my children" in the prison cell, it is meant genuinely. He now fully understands humanity for the first time.
Ironically, in this stinking, squalid prison cell, the Priest experiences a strange peace, for he knows he cannot fall further. His accepts that his journey is over unless God has other plans for him. With this knowledge, he finds a new meaning to life. He can now judge people from a totally humanitarian point of view. His assessment of the pious woman compared to the Mestizo is significant. The Mestizo is more pitiable because of "poverty and fever and innumerable humiliations," whereas the pious woman probably lived in a comfortable home spending her time in a rocking chair. He has lost touch with women like her who are superficially religious, much like Luis' mother who reads tales of pious works without understanding real piety. His years of wandering have brought him closer to the poor who live physically in squalor, yet have risked their lives to shelter him. Those are the people to whom religion is something real, proven by their actions rather than by pretentious, pious words. The pious woman, on the other hand, symbolizes the death of the spirit, and her black shawl is reflective of this.
In the distant past, the Priest was smug like the pious woman; he had committed no mortal sin, but in a real sense he was not holy. Now that he has committed adultery, he ironically feels more love and holiness: "it sometimes seemed to him that venial sins-- impatience, an important lie, pride, a neglected opportunity--cut you off from grace more completely than the worst sins of all. Then in his innocence, he has felt no love for anyone; now he has learned." Ironically, his antagonist, the Lieutenant, displays compassion. He knows the Priest has no money, so he gives him five pesos. The Priest says, "You're a good man." In fact, the Priest is a much better man because of his prison experience.
The dream the Priest has is significant. He is knocking at the doctor's door and wants him to save his child. The child's face is that of a middle-aged complacent looking woman. He can't enter because he does not know the password. The child in the dream is pious, and the priest does not know the right words to save her soul. His dream is, therefore, related to his real experience. It is also symbolic of his knocking on heaven's door. The Priest is afraid he does not have the right password for Heaven, since he is sinful and filled with guilt.
It is significant to note that the Priest is a Christ-figure throughout the chapter. The Priest's stay in jail is symbolic of Christ's descent into hell after his Crucifixion. The Priest feels forsaken by humanity, just as Christ felt forsaken on the night of his betrayal. The Priest emptying the buckets of human waste is reflective of Christ humbly washing his disciples' feet. The Priest bears the weight of the old man's head, just as Christ bore the cross and the sins of the world. The Priest is stripped of his garments, and Christ was stripped before the Crucifixion.
CHAPTER 4 Summary
A week after leaving prison, the Priest crosses the river, reaches the banana station, and finds it deserted. He wonders where Coral and her parents have gone. He enters the house and finds all kinds of medicines but no other trace of human habitation. The Priest is very hungry, and there is no food, not even a banana. Then he sees a dog. There is one solitary bone, which both the Priest and the dog eye; finally the Priest grabs it and tears at the raw meat and eats. He leaves the bone behind for the dog. Inside the house he finds some books and papers belonging to Coral.
The Priest realizes that his experience in the prison has changed him. He now "wandered in a kind of Limbo." He walks ahead until he reaches the village, which is also deserted. Once again he thinks of providence: "Somebody has determined that from now on he is to be left alone--altogether alone." Hiding in a hut, he grows afraid. He hears footsteps and tries to find out who is around. He sees the face of an Indian woman. He calls out to her, but she moves away. He follows her into a hut, where he discovers the body of a dying boy in a pile of maize. The Priest asks for water, but perhaps the woman does not understand. He tears his shirt into strips and soaks it in rain water to clean the child, but he can't save him. He finds three bullet wounds and wants to know what has happened. He asks if the Gringo has killed him, and she shakes her head. He guesses, perhaps, that the gunman has taken shelter and the soldiers have fired and killed the child instead.
The Priest wants to know if she wishes to bury the child. She talks and the only word he can understand is church. The woman carries the child behind her back, and together they go to where the woman thinks there is a church. They walk uphill in the rain for about thirty hours. On the second evening, they reach a plateau where he sees a grove of crosses against the sky. It is the work of Indians. The woman carries her child and holds him against the wood of the cross. Then she lays him down at the foot of the cross, takes out sugar, and starts eating. The Priest has nothing more to do; he asks if she is ready to leave, but she does not respond. With a nagging pain in his head, he turns and leaves. He wonders if he has moved in the right direction, but he has no map to refer to. Suddenly he realizes that it is wrong to have left the woman alone so he goes back to the crosses. He finds the body of the child with a lump of sugar by his mouth but the woman has gone. The Priest picks up the lump of sugar and puts it in his mouth. Feeling feverish, the Priest moves aimlessly ahead when a man with a gun appears. He asks the Priest who he is, and the Priest tells him the truth. He is determined not to give any more trouble to anyone. No more hostages should be taken. Footsteps follow him, and a voice calls out "Father." Fever and headache make him stumble against the wall of the barracks, and the man says "Father it is our church." The Priest feels the wall with his hands, sits down, and falls asleep. He dreams of a jungle filled with cheerful noises.
The Priest leaves Carmen, retraces his steps, and visits some of the places he has been before. He goes to the banana station where Coral and her parents lived and finds it deserted. He has no idea what has happened. He then follows a woman into a hut and sees the results of the Gringo. Although he is never seen in the book, the Gringo is often mentioned as the man who robs banks and guns down people. Now his cruelty is presented. The Gringo has used a child as a shield to save himself. The Priest meets the mother when her child is about to die. He tries to help but fails. There is no communication between the woman and the Priest except through a few isolated words. She talks about "American" and refers to the banana station. The Priest wonders again what could have happened to Coral. The mother then asks the Priest to pray for the child. Her devotion is clearly obvious when she carries his dead body for two days in order to bury him in a proper place. She takes him to a "church", which is really a grove of crosses on a plateau. She touchingly places his body against the cross before laying him out at the foot of the cross.
There are several other issues presented in the chapter. For a long while the Priest walks alone: "All round is the gentle sound of dipping water. It is nearly like peace, but not quite. For peace you needed human company." This quiet solitude is in sharp contrast to the one in the prison cell where humans are literally packed into degradation. Ironically, the Priest experiences peace in the prison and finds it missing in the quietness of nature; there can be no true peace without human presence. The last bit of the chapter is significant. When the Priest is completely exhausted, he falls against the wall of the barracks. He is told by a stranger that that is their church. The Priest sleeps there and dreams of a jungle filled with cheerful noise. This is the only pleasant dream the Priest has.
CHAPTER 1 Summary
This chapter opens three days later at Mr. Lehr's house. The foreman brings the Priest here on a mule. He likes the peace of the place and the fact that Mr. Lehr is not curious about his past. Mr. Lehr and his sister are German Americans, belong to the Lutheran church and do not believe in the Catholic Church. Mr. Lehr is kind, encourages the Priest not to hurry away on his journey, and takes him to the river to bathe. Lying in the cold stream and basking in its luxury, he thinks of the prison cell, of the Mestizo lying in the hut, of the dead child, of Coral, and of his daughter. He feels he has no right to this luxury. The Priest informs Mr. Lehr that he is going to celebrate mass the next day. Mr. Lehr warns him that a priest who has celebrated mass there has been fined four hundred pesos and sent to prison.
The next scene shows the Priest going to the village church. A woman kneels down and kisses his hand. She asks the Priest whether he is celebrating mass. She requests the Priest to hear confession and baptize children, for there has been no baptism for three years. She asks about the cost, and they bargain and settle for one peso fifty. The Priest needs money if he is to escape to Las Casas. As he walks through the village, he feels good to be greeted by the people. A man walks up to the Priest and asks if he needs any sacramental wine. The Priest says he does, but can only buy on credit. The man agrees to the arrangement and gives the Priest brandy in the canteen. The man offers to sell him brandy for his journey to Las Casas. When he gets up to leave, the Priest is in high spirits and announces that he will charge only one peso for a baptism.
The scene shifts to the Lehr household with Miss Lehr talking nostalgically. The Priest is tired, as there were many people who came to confess. The people have committed the usual sins, and the Priest mechanically absolves them. One thought that disturbs him is that unlike these people, he has not had the chance to confess.
The next scene shows the Priest slowly taking leave of Miss Lehr. This is a place where he has been treated as a guest and not as a criminal. Before continuing his journey, he has to celebrate mass. The people are waiting for him. Over the years, the Priest has shed one thing after another: he has celebrated mass without his vestments and Alter stone; usually there is no wine. After finishing mass, he sees the Mestizo from a distance. The Priest asks him if he has brought the soldiers, but the Mestizo says that he has come on an errand of mercy. He tells the Priest that an American is dying and needs him; the dying man is the Gringo. The Priest refuses to go because in this province in southern Mexico the soldiers cannot arrest him. The Mestizo says that he cannot refuse to see a dying man who needs him. The Priest knows the Mestizo is treacherous. The Mestizo tries to convince him that the location of the American is beyond the jurisdiction of the Lieutenant. The Mestizo tells him that when the Gringo was shot he picked up an Indian child to act as a screen, and the soldiers shot both of them. The Priest now understands how the little Indian child died. He feels that he must go back. He cannot let the American die without helping him. He thanks Miss Lehr for her hospitality and follows the Mestizo.
This is the only chapter in the book that is not gloomy. The place has idyllic beauty; "the rain drenched" grass gives a feeling of freshness that is a contrast to the damp forest infested with mosquitoes, beetles, and poisonous snakes. The stream is clear, with tiny fish instead of snakes. Everything in the Lehr establishment is clean and orderly. The Priest knows that Germans believe cleanliness is next to Godliness. Mr. Lehr and Miss Lehr are hospitable and kind. Ironically, the Priest does not feel the peace here that he felt in the prison. These people are kind but unable to love, very much like the Lieutenant who is kind and compassionate but also filled with hatred.
When the Priest is ready to depart, he sees the Mestizo at a distance. He knows he is being trapped but feels he must go.
Perhaps for this task of helping the Gringo, God has given him his extra time on earth.
In this chapter there is a dream that the Priest has had in the past. He is in a big grassy arena with statues of saints, but the saints are alive. They are waiting for someone, and he is waiting too. Peter, Paul, and Christ are dancing. Dreams always have an element of fantasy. This dream is probably symptomatic of the mental agony the Priest suffers whswithout having any genuine reverence for them. The Priest awakens with a complete sense of despair.
CHAPTER 2 Summary
After riding for seven hours, the Priest decides to send the guide and the mules back. The Mestizo asks him how he plans to escape without the mules. The Priest tells him that he won't need the mules any more. After some time, the Priest takes out a bottle of brandy and drinks some, then offers some to the Mestizo. The Priest talks of liquor being illegal on "this side of the border." He tricks the Mestizo into saying which side of the border they are on, but he makes no comment. They reach the hut in which the American is dying. The Priest kneels down near him and puts his face near the man's mouth to see if breath. A faint voice says, "Beat it, father." The Priest is surprised, for he believed that the American needs him; the Priest now feels useless. The man, instead of confessing, asks the Priest to take his gun. The Priest tries hard to make the man confess, but he says, "Father, you let me be. You look after yourself." The man is an agony yet tries to locate his knife for the Priest. The Priest whispers the words of absolution. He prays, "O merciful God, after all he is thinking of me." Each one is trying to help the other. The gunman wants to save the Priest's life, and the Priest tries to save his soul.
In the prison cell, the Priest is waiting for some sign to convince him that he is needed and that his sin does not disqualify him from his priestly duties. His experience in this chapter gives him the sign he is looking for. He has been a help to the mother of the dead child; now he will go and help the man who used the child as a human shield. Although he is sure of betrayal by the Mestizo, the Priest must go to the aid of the American gunman, James Calvin. At the Gringo's deathbed, the Priest tries hard to make him confess, but the man, instead, tries to help the Priest escape, giving him his gun and looking for his knife as well. Perhaps the Gringo is a believer and does not want any harm to come to a priest on his account. Perhaps this is a last gesture in an effort to save his soul. The Priest's humility is apparent in the last sentence of the chapter when he compares himself to the Gringo. "At the best, it is only one criminal trying to aid the escape of another-- whichever way you looked, there wasn't much merit in either of them."
CHAPTER 3 Summary
Just as the Priest finishes his prayers, he hears the voice of the man who has given him money when he left the prison. The voice asks him if has finished. The Priest thanks him for letting him finish his prayer. The Lieutenant tells him that he did not expect him to come. The Priest is under the impression that he will be shot immediately, but is told that he will have a proper trial for treason. The Lieutenant suddenly feels he has seen the Priest, and the Priest reminds him of the two occasions when they have seen each other. Once, when his daughter has said he is her father, and later at the Carmen police station, when he has given him money. The Lieutenant is surprised that he has a daughter. The Priest tells him that he is a bad priest and warns him not to think that other priests are like him. The Lieutenant recollects how silly it is to have him at the police station and then lose him. In his opinion, the American gunman is less harmful than the Priest.
The two men sit in the hut beside the dead gunman and have a long conversation. After many years, the Priest has the opportunity to talk to an intelligent man. While they talk, the Priest is also trying to show him some card tricks. The Lieutenant remembers his childhood associations with the Church and how the priests made everyone pay because the Church was poor. The people were exploited; that is why the Lieutenant wants to kill all of them. He does not have an unpleasant experience with the Priest; yet he thinks he is a danger. The Lieutenant asks the Priest why the Church has failed in Mexico. He explains that the priests have failed because they did not have the courage to correct the landlords who exploited the poor and killed the peasants. The priests have merely heard their confessions and absolved them.
The Lieutenant talks about his dream. Now that the churches are closed, no money is needed to support them. The money can be used to feed and educate the poor. The Priest tells the young Lieutenant that after food and books, people will still need something more and that is when priests will be needed. He explains that any system will be successful only if there are good men operating it. Without good men, even the Lieutenant's plan will fail. There will be poverty, starvation, and exploitation. Priests will be needed to earn God's pardon for the people The Lieutenant questions why the Priest has remained in Mexico. The Priest answers that it is mostly because of pride; but there are other things as well. The Priest explains how it is not merely the matter of choosing between the right or wrong course. He has never really felt the need to run. Churches were closed down in the past, but the Church has survived. Then time merely slipped by until one day he realizes he is the only Priest left. The Priest then gives an account of how he began to go to pieces and how he became careless about his duties, began to drink, had sex with Maria, and had a child.
The Priest is gripped with fear as the Lieutenant orders his squad to get ready. The Lieutenant tells the Priest how he has shot two hostages because of him. The hostages are his own people to whom he wanted to give "the whole world." The Priest tells him, "God is love." It is because of love that the Priest does not want a single man in his state to be damned. They enter the city in a procession, and the Lieutenant asks if the Priest expects a miracle and offers to do something for him. The Priest wants to confess. As they ride along, Luis spies the Lieutenant and asks him whether he has caught the Gringo.
The Priest and the Lieutenant have met twice before, but the Lieutenant did not recognize him. Now they meet face to face, each knowing the other and acknowledging that both are doing their duties. The priest admits that he is a bad man, and the Lieutenant concludes that he will be doing the Church a favor by killing him. According to the Lieutenant, the Gringo is less harmful.
The Priest shows him card tricks, and the Lieutenant is engrossed but says sarcastically, "I suppose you tell the Indians that is a miracle of God." The Priest says he has learned the card tricks from an Indian and used to perform them in the parish for the guilds. The memory of the guilds disgusts the Lieutenant. The Lieutenant believes the card tricks are symptomatic of the trickery practiced by the priests. He talks of the hypocrisy of priests in general. The Priest reminds him of the bad men that exist on his side too; they are both thinking of the jefe. The Priest makes a very important observation. For any political system to be effective it is necessary to have good workers; otherwise the system will perish.
Like the Priest, the Lieutenant has learned many things about rich and poor people. He feels miserable that he has shot two hostages. Both wish to change men; just in their different ways. Neither of them feels a strong hatred for the other. The Lieutenant asks the Priest if he is expecting a miracle. The Priest says no, but a miracle does take place. The Lieutenant wishes to help the Priest and is willing to make arrangements for a confessor. This, for the Priest, is a miracle.
CHAPTER 4 Summary
The Lieutenant himself goes to request Padre José to hear the confession of the Priest. No one can find out that the Lieutenant has permitted a religious ceremony, not even the chief, who is not too pleased with the Lieutenant's success. When he knocks at Padre José's door, Padre gets scared. He refuses to go to the police station to hear confession. He is sorry for the Whisky Priest, but he is also scared for his life.
The Priest has been tried and found guilty. He will be killed.
Although upset, the Priest is most disturbed about dying without absolution. He is disappointed that Padre Jose would not help him.
In the next scene, we see the Priest alone in the prison cell drinking from his brandy flask. He imagines he is at a confession in front of an imaginary priest. There, he starts thinking about the end. He wonders how long it takes to die after being shot and how long a second will seem. He has a strange dream in which he sees Coral, who tells him about Morse code; then the Priest and the whole congregation tapped the code together.
He wakes up at dawn and tries to remember an act of contrition and begs pardon. He is unhappy to go to God empty handed.
This is the last chapter in which we have a close look at the Priest. He examines himself. He finds that he has achieved nothing, done nothing for anyone. Even after he risks his life several times for others, he feels useless. In spite of the Lieutenant's assurances of safety, Padre José refuses to come.
In this chapter we see the Priest in the prison cell for the last time. His previous night in the prison cell was spent with other people. Now he is alone and has a dialogue with God. The Priest is disappointed that he will have to go empty handed to God. The most important thing now is to save Brigitta: "Oh God help her. Damn me, I deserve it, but let her live forever." He again feels guilty because this is not how he feels for the rest of the world. He feels utterly useless.
In his prison cell, he has a curious dream. He is at a table with six dishes spread before him. A priest says mass, but it is not important to him. At last the plates are empty, but the glass begins to fill up with wine. It is Coral who is pouring the wine. She says, "I got it from my father's room." They talk about Morse code, and all at once the Priest and the congregation are tapping in code. He wakes up to find it is dawn. It is significant that he dreams of Coral. The desire to see her must have been great.
He again reviews his life and finds that he has achieved nothing. The Priest does not know that his death converts Luis into a believer and perhaps many more.
Chapter 1 Summary
In this section, characters from previous chapters are again seen. Mr. and Mrs. Fellows are, as usual, in bed. Mrs. Fellows is ill, and Coral is no longer alive to care for her. The couple has decided never to mention her. Fellows tells his wife that there is excitement in town because a priest has been caught. Mrs. Fellows wonders if it is the Priest they sheltered. Mr. and Mrs. Fellows are waiting for the boat to go back to England. Mrs. Fellows reads to her husband the letter she has received from her sister. The letter begins: "Dear Trix, how you have suffered. That scoundrel." Mrs. Fellows skips some lines and goes on with the rest. It is hinted that Coral was, like the Indian child, shot by the red shirts who were trying to kill the gunman. Fellows suddenly announces that he can't leave the remains of Coral in Mexico. Although both are both trying hard not to talk about their lost daughter, they fail.
The scene shifts to the chief's room, which is a temporary dentistry. The chief and the dentist talk about the Priest's having been captured. Tench also reveals things about his personal life. Even though he has received a letter from his wife asking for a divorce, he still wants to go back to England. While the chief is in the dentist's chair, commotion causes the dentist to go to the window. The chief tells him that somebody is going to be shot. Tench can see the Priest being led by the policemen. He suddenly recognizes him. The chief calls him back to finish his job. Tench immediately attends to him, as the chief constantly complains about pain.
The next scene shows the pious woman reading the story of Juan and his martyrdom. Luis asks his mother if the Priest who is shot that day is also a martyr. The mother says yes. The girls remember that the Priest smells funny. The mother tells them never to talk about that. Luis remembers the story of Juan and his blood-soaked handkerchief that is cut into pieces and sold as a relic. He wants to know if someone has soaked a handkerchief in the Priest's blood. To Luis, the Priest is more real and his martyrdom acceptable. He falls asleep and dreams of the Priest.
There is a knock on the door. The boy jumps up. When the boy opens the door he sees a priest waiting for shelter.
The last part of the book is the shortest one. Coral is dead, and Mr. and Mrs. Fellows are trying to go on with their lives. It is difficult without their daughter.
Tench is attending the jefe's toothache. During the process, the execution of the Priest takes place. Tench leaves the jefe in his chair and goes to have a look. He recognizes the Priest and remembers his bad teeth. Tench comments, "You cure a lot of people in this country, don't you, with bullets." Tench notices that there are vultures in the courtyard. In the end, Tench feels deserted because the Priest is the last human being with whom he has talked about his children.
Luis' mother is again reading the story of Juan. Luis is now interested in listening because martyrdom, through the priest, is a real thing. Earlier, Luis is fascinated by the Lieutenant; now when he passes by, Luis spits on him.
The book ends on a note of hope. There is another priest who comes to Luis' house; he needs shelter. Luis gladly opens the door to him, signifying that Luis has become a believer because of the Whisky Priest. It is significant that this Priest too is unnamed.
The Whiskey Priest
The protagonist of the book is the unnamed priest, known as the Whisky Priest. For eight years, he has been defying the government and carrying on with his priestly duties. He lives as a fugitive, trying to escape to safety. Each time he is about to escape, someone needs him and because of his basic goodness and sense of duty, he cannot refuse. He risks his life to help Luis' mother, the Indian child, Maria and Brigitta, and the Gringo. On the other hand, two people lose their lives because they do not inform the police about him.
Before the book begins, the Priest, in a weak moment of despair, has sex with Maria and becomes the illegitimate father of Brigitta. Until the very end of the novel, he has a great sense of guilt about this mortal sin. More than anything else, he wants to confess and gain a pardon. Before his execution, Padre José, the weak priest, refuses to hear his confession. In the eyes of the official Church, he, therefore, dies an unforgiven sinner.
As the book proceeds, the Priest is followed on a journey filled with various events and self-analysis. Much is revealed about the Priest. He feels it is his duty to save himself because "God intended for man--the enormous privilege of life--this life." He broods over the validity of existence and comes to the conclusion that he will stay alive as long as God wants to use him for some service to his fellow man. After Montez is shot dead and Miguel is taken hostage, the Priest begins to doubt his purpose, for lives are lost at his expense. Fears of retribution prevent the common people from welcoming him. At the same time he feels he must go on because he is still putting God into the mouths of the people.
Over the years, the Priest has learned many things. When he was young, he became a priest for the good life he could have. He enjoyed the respect of the parishioners and the grandeur of all celebrations. Being ambitious, he hoped to become a bishop. Charging the poor for his services did not bother him, for he had a lifestyle to maintain. He also had no qualms about his debts. He spoke eloquently about the political changes taking place in Mexico but was not really concerned. He was put to the test when the government sacked his church and banned all religious ceremonies.
After losing his church, the Priest had to struggle to perform his duties, as well as survive. With lots of time to ponder life, he begins to really understand the mystery of religion. Instead of focusing on himself and the attention he receives, the Priest starts to appreciate human nature. When people needed him to celebrate mass, to baptize people, and to say the last rites for the dying; he strongly believed it was his duty to help them, no matter the risk to himself.
The priest also has time to brood over the nature of his sin. On one hand, he knows he is guilty of the sin of breaking his celibacy; on the other hand, he loves the fruit of his sin. He, therefore, is unable to sincerely say an Act of Contrition. He concludes that he is a bad priest and an unworthy man.
His night in the prison cell is an important stage in his spiritual progress. Here he meets the pious woman and realizes that he shares some of her false pride. The realization changes him. He no longer feels superior; instead, he feels like an equal, a comrade, to all the prisoners. He calls them all "my children" and truly means it for the first time ever. He has moved from piety to love of his fellow man. He loses pride and learns the meaning of humility. In his youth, he was pious and had not sinned, but he was also incapable of love. His own sin has made him more human, more benevolent. Instead of condemning people as sinners, he is able to analyze circumstances that might have led them to sin. He is, therefore, able to forgive the people in the prison cell for their behavior, the Mestizo for his betrayal, the Gringo for his murdering ways, and the Lieutenant for killing two hostages and capturing him. The attitude of the Priest towards his daughter Brigitta is significant. She is an unlovable child, for "The world is in her heart already, like a small spot of decay in a fruit." In spite of her imperfections, he felt love for her as a human being, like he had never experienced before. Even though he respected and loved Coral, it was a different feeling for the Priest, the kind he has for his parishioners before he is transformed by humility.
The Priest comes closest to God when he is taken back to the prison before his execution. He is willing to be damned eternally if Brigitta can be saved. This is the greatest kind of love, but at the same time, he suffers that he cannot love all humankind in the same way. The final impression is that the Priest is a good and holy man.
The unnamed Lieutenant is a well-groomed, smart man, whose "meanness gave an effect of inordinate ambition in a shabby city." He has a scar on his jaw, which is symbolic of the scar on his psyche. Unlike his chief, he is dedicated to his work and means business. He is a fanatic who believes in the anti-clerical policies of his state and who wants to rid Mexico of the last priest and all vestiges of the church. Appropriately, on the wall of his "monastic" lodging, he has the picture of El Presidente.
The Lieutenant has fully supported the government and "helped to wipe out the unhappy memory" of religion. He is infuriated that people still believe in God. He particularly detests all people who cannot bear a little pain for their faith. He thinks of the ridiculous figure of Padre José, who has married to escape prosecution and the bishop who has escaped to the safety of Mexico City. In spite of his hatred for priests in general, the Lieutenant, at the end of the book, shows some respect for the Whiskey Priest. This man has not deserted his faith or fled from the province. In fact, he is courageous enough to come to the Gringo to perform the last rites, fully knowing he is close to capture. After the Lieutenant arrives, he allows the Priest to have privacy while he is praying for the Gringo. Before his execution, the Lieutenant allows the Priest to express his one last wish. When he learns that it is the desire for confession, the Lieutenant, with great risk to himself, goes to Padre José to ask him to see the Priest. He is appalled that Padre Jose will not come.
In other interactions, the Lieutenant shows his human side and basic kindness. When he encounters Luis and his friends at the plaza, he does not chide them for accidentally throwing the lemonade bottle at him; instead, he allows the boys to touch his holster. He states that it is for these children that he is fighting. He even feels an awkward affection for them. When he unknowingly releases the Priest from prison the first time, he gives him five pesos from his own pocket, for he sympathizes with the elderly poor who have no way to make a living. The Lieutenant is dedicated to socialism because he feels it is the system that can best help the poor. His greatest fallacy is that he thinks he can eliminate all that is corrupt with his gun.
Graham Greene says that he created the Lieutenant as both a contrast and a comparison to the Priest. Both of them desire happiness for mankind; both are kind men. Both are similar in their dedication to duty. But the two men have vastly different notions of happiness. The Priest's happiness comes from the Church and what it stands for; the Lieutenant's happiness rests with the State. About the Lieutenant, Graham Greene has said "I had to invent him as a counter to the failed Priest; the idealistic police officer who stifled life from the best possible motives; the drunken Priest who continued to pass life on."
The Lieutenant is confused when the Priest tells him that destiny will ensure the survival of the church. The Lieutenant wonders how, without any planned effort to save the church, the Priest can depend on Providence. He is certain that the Church is near its end with the execution of the last priest; ironically, the book ends with the arrival of a new priest, who is seeking shelter at Luis' home.
Padre José is a weak man who has left the priesthood and married in order to save himself physically; as a result, he has lost his soul. In everything he does, he shows he is a coward, fearful of persecution. In truth, he is a simpleton who has no intellectual understanding of religion. He is burdened with guilt, like the Whisky Priest, but lacks the moral strength to defy the rules of the state. He has lost all human consideration as can be seen in the graveyard when he refuses to say a simple prayer over a child's burial. He also refuses to shelter the Priest or to hear his last confession, even though the Lieutenant promises him secrecy. Padre José can do nothing to extricate himself from the depth of failure he has created for himself.
The Mestizo is the Judas character who betrays the Priest.
Appropriately, he is characterized by his yellow fang-like teeth, which are symbolic of the serpent and Satan. The Priest, like Christ, recognizes his betrayer almost immediately, and wonders when the traitor will act. Mestizo waits for the right opportunity to betray him, for he wants to make sure he does not fail and he wants to earn the most money possible for his act of betrayal. He finally traps the Priest in a safe province and leads him to the dying Gringo to perform the last rites. The Priest knows it is an ambush yet cannot refuse him. In fact, the Priest does not even judge Mestizo harshly, for as a sinner himself, he can understand his betrayer.
Maria is the woman with whom the Priest has sinned and the mother of his child, Brigitta. Proud to have been the woman of the Priest, Maria suffers no guilt. She shelters the Priest in spite of the danger of being killed as a traitor. She is practical and shows great presence of mind at several moments during the visit of the Priest. She is also aware of Brigitta's bad nature, but, like the Priest, loves the child in spite of her shortcomings.
The Chief of Police
The Jefe is a fat official who is more often found at the billiards room than in his office. He is constantly seen with a handkerchief around his mouth as a relief for a toothache. He is corrupt and irresponsible. In a province where there is prohibition, he drinks with the Priest and the governor's cousin. The Lieutenant believes he and his like should be shot for their disloyalty to the State.
Luis' mother is a pious woman who reads stories of martyrs to her children. These stories are typical of religious propaganda. She has a complacent, holier-than-thou attitude, but lacks true piety, real understanding, or heart-felt compassion. Religion for her is more an attitude than a driving force. She is exasperated because her son Luis does not believe the stories and asks many questions. When he does become a believer, it will be out of true understanding, unlike his mother who believes at a very superficial level, much like the pious woman the Priest encounters in the prison cell.
The Children in the Novel
There are several children in the novel. The most important children are Coral, Brigitta and Luis. Coral is the daughter of Captain Fellows. She is a very frail, but strong person. She is independent and has answers to everything. Although she does not believe in God, she is a kind person and decides on her own to shelter the Priest. She is clever enough to convince the Lieutenant that the Priest is not on the premises. She tells her father about the Priest after the departure of the Lieutenant. Her father is unhappy because he does not wish to interfere with politics. Coral takes food and a bottle of beer to the warehouse, where the Priest is hiding. She feels concern and promises to shelter him if he comes again and to signal him if the police or soldiers appear. Throughout the novel, the Priest is concerned about Coral's well being. Near the end of the book, he goes back to the Fellows farm to check on Coral, only to discover the soldiers had killed her.
Brigitta is the Priests illegitimate daughter. He does not meet her until she is seven years old, and her mother Maria tells the Priest she is a difficult and unlovable child. It is significant that although Coral is good to the Priest, he loves Brigitta much more intensely. At the end of the novel, he will gladly damn himself to save his daughter.
Luis is the son of the pious lady who reads stories to her children. Luis is an intelligent boy who does not believe the stories about the young martyr, Juan. He is a great admirer of the Lieutenant and is fascinated by his gun and holster. He does not understand the concept of martyrdom and wonders why the national political heroes like Villa, Obregon, and Madero are not considered martyrs. Like all the boys, he is interested in the fate of the Gringo, who becomes a part of their game. He becomes a believer when he sees the Whisky Priest shot. It is after that incident that he spits at the Lieutenant when he passes by his window. The Whisky Priest's martyrdom is a real thing to him so he is happy to receive and shelter another unnamed priest who knocks at their door.
The story is one of pursuit in which the Lieutenant is chasing the Priest. Symbolically, it is the government's attempt to destroy the Church. The Lieutenant succeeds in capturing him and killing him, but he does not succeed in destroying the Church. At the end, another unnamed priest appears to carry on his religious duties.
The Priest's journey is not only an attempt to escape from the Lieutenant, but an attempt to keep alive his priestly function. The Priest is burdened with sin. Through his journey and encounters, he tries to understand the nature of evil and comes to the conclusion that he is the most unworthy person in the world. After committing adultery and staying in the prison cell, he loses his pride. His new humanity and love for his fellow man make him incapable of judging people as sinners. He also learns to view himself as a coward, because he has fear of physical pain and death. Had he really been a coward, he would not have risked his life for his fellow man throughout the novel. In fact, the Priest goes to perform the last rites for the dying Gringo even though he is fully aware that a trap has been set up for his capture. He willingly goes with the Lieutenant, but wants to confess and receive absolution before dying. Padre José, not the Lieutenant, denies him that opportunity. The Priest is shot without confessing; but he has realized that mere ritual is meaningless.
The Power and the Glory as a religious novel The novel analyzes the challenges of faith, religious ritual, sin, confession, absolution and martyrdom. Graham Greene explores these issues by portraying a variety of people in the novel, ranging from priests and ardent believers to nihilists and non-believers. Even among those who are religious, there are various grades. Those who have blind faith without any understanding, such as the Indian woman who is determined to bury her dead child near a church and Luis' mother who thrives on religious propaganda. Those who perform all the rituals of the Church, with an appearance of piety, but are devoid of human feelings, such as the pious lady in the prison. Those who are rich and for whom religion means nothing more than lavish celebrations; and those who are genuine in their faith and have a rational approach to religion. Undeniably, religion means power, not only to the priests, but also to the different levels of laymen. Religion is also permanent, as evidenced in the appearance of the priest at the end of the novel, in spite of all the government's efforts to rid the country of religious figures.
The novel, through the story of the Whisky Priest, also deals with martyrdom in a modern setting. The Priest is guilty of pride, lust, adultery, and despair, but is remorseful about his sins. He desperately wants to escape from Mexico, but his priestly duties come first. Each time he is about to succeed in "breaking out," someone asks for his help, and with kindness, he responds. He conducts baptisms, confessions, and masses. He goes with the child to attend his sick mother, and he goes to the Gringo to administer his Last Rites. As he performs his religious duties, he slips further and further away from escape and closer and closer to inevitable death. When he is shot, the reader must decide if he dies as a martyr.
The plot of The Power and the Glory is a simple one. It is the story of a priest who tries to practice his faith while seeking safety in the anti-religious age in Mexico. He journeys from Carmen through various villages and back to Carmen again, with the
Lieutenant constantly in pursuit of him. Imprisonment and release take him away from Carmen a second time. Again, he moves from village to village performing his priestly duties until he is arrested and brought back to Carmen, where he is shot by the antagonist, the Lieutenant.
Although the plot line is a simple one, the focus behind the plot is much deeper. Greene examines the question of a person's sin versus his/her salvation. The Whisky Priest has lived under terrible conditions in Mexico for years in order to carry out God's will. He continues to practice his faith and minister to the people in spite of being half-starved and assaulted by police. In fact, his death is caused by his determination to perform his priestly duties. He leaves the safety of the mountains to administer the Last Rites to Calvin, a bank robber and murderer. Because of this action, he is seen by the Lieutenant and shot.
Despite his profession and his helpful ways, the Whisky Priest is also a sinner. He has been pompous, he drinks too much, and he has committed adultery, fathering a child as a result. He feels very guilty about his sins, but his feelings do not shake his faith in the Church. He knows that the Church will go on after his death, and indeed, at the end of the novel, a new priest arrives in the province to take his place.
Table of Contents THEME
The Church is eternal and triumphant, and no repressive regime can destroy it.
Table of Contents MOOD
The mood of the novel is gloomy. The picture of the world as presented through Mexico is chaotic, and sin is ever present.
Vultures, snakes, hyenas, beetles, turkeys, and sharks are all unpleasant creatures contributing to the mood. The physical features of the land are made up of swamps and dark forests with creatures lurking about. Fever, blinding heat, poverty, hunger, and thirst enhance the gloom. Decay, squalor, human degradation, and fear are highlighted, but there is a ray of hope and that is the possibility of love.
Graham Greene, one of six children, was born on October 2, 1904, in Berhamsted, Hertfordshire, England. He attended Berhamsted public school, where his father was the headmaster. He also went to Balliol College at Oxford in 1922. His life at school and at home was so unhappy that he attempted suicide. After college, he worked as a journalist for the Nottingham Journal. In a film review that he wrote for the journal, he made an incorrect statement about Catholicism. Vivien Dayrel-Browning wrote to him, correcting his mistake. They met, fell in love, and got married. In 1926, he became a Catholic, in part to understand and appreciate the religious beliefs of his wife and in part to help him cope with his belief in the strong presence of evil in the world.
In 1938, Greene was commissioned to visit Mexico and report on the religious persecution there. The Power and the Glory and The Lawless Roads are the result of this experience. Besides these two novels, he wrote short stories, plays, several books for entertainment, and several other serious novels, including The Heart of the Matter, Travels with My Aunt, The Quiet American, and The Human Factor. He also worked as a film critic for the Spectator. He spent the last sixteen years of his life separated from his wife and died in Veyvey, Switzerland, on April 3, 1991.
The Whisky Priest, as a symbol of the Church, is the protagonist of the novel.
The Lieutenant, as the symbol of the Government, is the antagonist.
The conflict in The Power and the Glory is between the Government (the Power) and the Church (the Glory). The Government wishes to permanently destroy the Church. The Lieutenant is determined to capture the Whisky Priest, the last remnant of the Priesthood in the province, and rid the country of the Church's bad influence.
The Whisky Priest's meeting with the Lieutenant at the police station after spending a night in prison is the climax of the plot.
This takes place in of Part II, chapter 3. The reader is in suspense because the Whisky Priest is likely to be recognized by the Lieutenant. Ironically, the Lieutenant does not recognize his adversary. In fact, he releases him from prison after one night and gives him five pesos. In spite of this bit of fortune, the Whisky Priest, at this point, realizes that he is nearing his end.
The story of the Whisky Priest ends in a tragedy when he is shot dead; however, his death does not mean the end of religion in Mexico.
On the last page of the book a priest knocks at the door of Luis's house and asks for shelter, which means the Church continues and cannot be repressed. This is a triumphant ending for religion.