Term Paper: Graham Greene's Novel the Power

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[. . .] Similar paradoxes abound in Catholic doctrine and are embodied in the life of the priest. The priest in the novel has endured pain and guilt for years "but recognizes in his suffering the purposeful presence of God's love" (Kelly 53). The whiskey priest is heroic in spite of himself. He would be deemed a fallen priest by most assessments, for he is not only an alcoholic but has fathered an illegitimate child. He is also terrified of both pain and death, which makes his willingness to endure both more heroic than if he were the sort of uncompromising saint many expect him to be. Ultimately, he finds salvation through his daughter, a young woman "who appears to have lost her innocence prematurely and has little hope for joy in this world" (Kelly 53). Updike finds the development of this character to be perfect for the themes of the novel, noting that the "nameless whiskey priest blends seamlessly with his tropical, crooked, anti-clerical Mexico. Roman catholicism is intrinsic to the character and terrain both" (Updike 16). In the novel, it is significant that "those who believe in the priest are children. Most adults have little faith in him, but the young draw their hope from him although he is weak and corrupt" (McCann 435). Perhaps they see more clearly than the adults and than the priest himself, for the heroic act he undertakes at the last is not something he would have foreseen for himself..

The story in the novel divides into four sections. The reader is introduced to the whiskey priest in the first of these, learns that he is trying to escape from the state in which he stands as the last representative of the Church, and encounters numerous other characters. In the second part, the priest returns to his village to see his daughter and narrowly escapes discovery by the lieutenant. When he shows up looking for wine to celebrate the Mass, he is arrested for violating the anti-liquor laws. In part three, he is released without being recognized and is about to escape entirely when he is called back to minister to a dying gangster. This proves to be a trap, which he knows but enters just the same, and he is arrested and executed. The last part of the novel looks to the effect his death has on the other characters (Lodge 24).

The novel is also structured around three meetings between the priest and the lieutenant. The priest is running and hiding from the police, so it is natural that such meetings are few. These meetings also bring into play another important element, the element of delay. The first two times the lieutenant meets the rest, he does not recognize him as the man he is hunting. This delays the inevitable capture. Malamet states that "Greene's incorporation of deferral as a thematic component in the novel's Christian content" (Malamet 21J) is reinforced by the teachings of the Church, such as when the priest tells the peasants that they deny themselves now so they can gain more in heaven:

Here life resembles a dilatory quest that culminates in heavenly fulfillment, but this tribute to what lies ahead is subverted by the insistent and immediate pursuit of the lieutenant close at hand (Malamet 21J).

The delay also adds to the theme of change, of becoming, of alteration. The priest should be easy to find given that the police have a picture of him with a ring drawn around his face to make it easy to see, but in fact, the face of the man has changed. Where formerly he was a buffoon, he is changed internally if not externally. Greene emphasizes that the man tried to change his face physically but could not, but he also shows in the book that the man is a different person than he was, and it is this difference which fools the police.

The internal change is very important, showing a belief in the possibility of redemption and so in the doctrines of the Church. Those who find Greene to be anti-Catholic are mistaking his real concerns about the way the Church responds at times and about the corruption that he finds in the Church in Mexico for a lack of belief. De Vitis finds that Greene not only believes in Catholic doctrine but in the Church itself and that he embodies this belief in this novel:

In The Power and the Glory Greene asserts the vitality of the Roman Catholic Church as he attempts an explanation of the value of its beliefs. For all his weaknesses the whiskey priest becomes the representative not only of his Church but of the cumulative wisdom of the past; in short, Western humanism (De Vitis 77).

Green does this not in a polemical structure but within the allegory of this novel, an allegory in which the priest can be seen as an embodiment of Everyman: "For the priest while determining the means of his salvation becomes a man fighting the unifying but degrading urges of a power cult" (De Vitis 77).

Janet McCann finds certain repeated themes in Greene's work centering on ideas about death, and she writes,

Greene's notion of life as a moral drama is reflected in his treatment of death and dying in the novels. His main characters usually meet sudden and violent ends, but their deaths are almost always accompanied by hints of hope... In most cases, Greene surrounds death with such mystery and ambiguity as to suggest an entirely different perspective on the total picture?

a perspective which suffering human beings glimpse only occasionally and incompletely. Through his treatment of his characters' deaths, he makes known the nature of that great gap he finds between the actuality of life in the world, with its disappointments and limitations, and the possibility of infinite life (McCann 434).

McCann further notes that the death of the priest in The Power and the Glory is ambiguous in several ways and evokes a number of themes of interest to Greene:

In this conclusion, the priest's despondency is contrasted with others' belief in him. The difference in tone between the ending of part III and the beginning of part IV heightens the ambiguity as the reader is shunted from despair to a kind of bittersweet hope. Certainly, if this priest is saved, it must be through his very human love, since he had little else to offer. The priest's sense of failure may point up another Greene theme: that people are unaware of the roles they play in the divine plan. But in any case, it is difficult to find any loopholes for the priest in Catholic dogma, and the Catholic Church's initial disapproval of the book is understandable (McCann 435).

The priest himself examines his soul in the time before his execution and decides that he has love only for his daughter. He also tries to bargain with god by "offering his damnation for her salvation" (De Vitis 83), but in the end he can only face the enormity of his own human failings. However, there is more to the priest and his life than even he sees, as De Vitis points out:

Unknown to him he has touched the hearts of three, perhaps four, bystanders: the child Coral; the boy Luis; Mr. Tench, the dentist; and he has made the lieutenant aware of his emptiness... The priest leaves the impression of his heroism on three hearts, and he sows the lieutenant the possibility of salvation (De Vitis 83).

The Power and the Glory depicts a period in history when the Mexican government sought to distance itself from and even eliminate altogether the influence of the Catholic Church in Mexico. Graham Greene makes it clear that some in the Church had been corrupt and that this element had to be eliminated, but he also shows how much power and glory still reside in the idea of catholicism and in certain individuals in the Church hierarchy. His fallen priest is in many ways more worthy than the cowardly priests who marry and leave the Church because the authorities tell them to do so. The priest represents the Church though he would not be recognized as a worthy heir by the Church itself, and the lieutenant represents the power of the state, a power that will fail even as he seems always to succeed because he can force others to do his bidding. In the end, he cannot force real change but only cosmetic change. He can stamp out external elements of the Church, but the ideas of the Church remain in the hearts of men like the whiskey priest and in children who believe. Even the lieutenant seems to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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