‘The Power And The Glory’ By Graham Greene Essay, Research Paper
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
Book report by Allen Rabinovich
It is the story-teller’s task to elicit sympathy and a measure of understanding for those who lie outside the boundaries of State Approval.
One day I gave The Power and the Glory to… a native of Mexico who had lived through the worst persecutions… She confessed that your descriptions were so vivid, your priest so real, that she found herself praying for him at Mass. I understand how she felt. Last year, on a trip through Mexico, I found myself peering into mud huts, through village streets, and across impassible mountain ranges, half-believing that I would glimpse a dim figure stumbling in the rain on his way to the border. There is no greater tribute possible to your creation of this character – he lives.
An excerpt from the letter of Californian Catholic teacher to Graham Greene, 1960
In a particular Mexican state the Church had been outlawed and the priests had to go underground by the threat of being shot. After several months from the governor’s office appeared a news, that there was still one priest, Father Montez, who was moving from village to village working on the Church by administering the sacraments, listening confessions and saying masses. A young lieutenant of police, and ardent revolutionist and an anti-clerical, asked his chief to let him search for the priest who, as the authorities understood it, was guilty of treason.
Two photographs were pasted up together in police station. One was the picture of an American bank robber who killed several police officers in Texas; the other was that of the priest. No one noticed the irony, including the young lieutenant, who was more interested in arresting the priest. When the officer received permission to look for Father Montez, the priest was already in the village, where he came to get aboard the boat that would take him in the city Vera Cruz and safety.
In the village he met Mr. Tench, old dentist who wanted somebody to speak English with. But before Father Montez could get aboard the boat news came to him that an Indian woman was dying several miles inland. True to the call, the priest sat on the mule and went to administer the last rites to the dying woman, even though he realized that he might not find another ship to carry him to safety. There was one other priest in the region, Father Jose. But Father Jose was so coward, that he renounced the church up to the point of taking a wife, a shrewish old woman. The authorities paid no attention to him at all, for they felt, and rightly so, that the priest who had renounced his vows was a shame to the Church.
After completing his mission, Father Montez came back to the coast, where he spent the night in a banana warehouse. The English manager on the plantation allowed him to hide there.
The following day, hoping to find safety from the police and from the revolutionary party of Red Shirts, he went further. As he traveled, he thought of his own past and of himself as a poor example of the priesthood. He considered himself a “whiskey priest”, a cleric who would do almost anything for a drink of spirits. Thinking himself a weak man and a poor priest, he was still determined to carry on the work for the Church as long as he could, not because he wanted to be a martyr, but because he knew nothing else to do.
After twelve hours of travel he reached the village where his one-time mistress and his child lived. The woman took him for a night, and the following morning he said a mass to the villagers. Before he could escape the police entered the village. Marcia spoke with him as her husband, and his child, a little girl of seven years old, named him as her father. In that manner he escaped. Meanwhile the police decided to use a new tactic in searching him. As they passed through each village the took a hostage. When a certain time passed without the appearance of father Montez, a hostage was shot. In that way the lieutenant of police hoped to persuade the people to betray their priest.
After the police had left the village without discovering him, Father Montez took his mule and went on his way. He traveled northward to escape the police and, if possible, to make his way temporarily into another state.
Some hours after leaving the village, Father Montez met with a mestizo who joined him. Before long the half-breed discovered that Father Montez was the priest for whom the police were searching. He promised that he, a good Catholic, would not betray the secret, but Father Montez was afraid that the promised reward of seven hundred pesos would be too much for a patience of the poor man.
When they reached a town , however, it was Father Montez own weakness which put him into the hands of the police. He wanted to have some liquor, the selling of which was against the law. He tried to buy some illegally, but his possession of the contraband was discovered by one of the revolutionary Red Shirts, who raised a cry about this. Tracked down by a police, the priest was caught and placed in the prison. Fortunately, the police didn’t recognize him, but since he had no money he was kept in jail to work and thus to pay the fine.
The lieutenant of police who was searching for him unexpectedly did father Montez a good thing. Seeing the old man working about the prison, the lieutenant stopped to talk with him. The priest said he was a vagrant who had no home of his own. The lieutenant, feeling sorry for the old fellow, released him and gave him a present of five pesos. Leaving town, Father Montez started out across the country to find a place of temporary safety. After traveling for some time, he met an Indian woman who could speak only a few words of Spanish. She wanted to make him understand that something was wrong with her child. He went with her and found that the baby had been shot; his immediate guess was that the American bandit had done the deed.
After making rites over the child, Father Montez continued his flight. He went into the next state, where he was given sanctuary by a German plantation owner. After resting a few days, he planned to go to a city and there tell about his problems to his bishop. Before he could leave, however, he was found by the mestizo, who said that the American bandit, a Catholic, was dying and needed the priest. Father Montez answered the call, even though he was sure he was being led into trap. The bandit was really dying, but he was in the state from which Father Montez had just escaped. With him was a party of police, waiting for the priest’s appearance in order to arrest him.
Immediately after the bandit’s death the police took Father Montez . He was taken back to the capital of the state and accused in treason. Then he was found guilty and sentenced to be shot. The lieutenant of the police, who felt sorry in a way for the old priest, tried to persuade the renegade Father Jose to hear Father Montez’ last confession, but Father Jose, who feared the authorities, refused. Father Montez was led out and shot. But the lieutenant of police had not succeeded in removing the Church’s influence; in the evening of the day on which father Montez died another priest made his way, in secret, into the town where the execution had taken place.
The events of the book take place in one of the Mexican states, somewhere in the Tabasco region. Historically the time of the plot is 1930’s. As the book shows, this historical period was very difficult for the country, because it was the time of “great reforms”, i. e. the time of passage from the monarchism to communism. The beginning of this reforms was the Mexican revolution, which took place in 1910.
Also the book tells a lot about the climate of Mexico. It is very hot and dry. The landscape, like one on the cover, is very typical for Mexico.
The Power and The Glory, first published more than fifty years ago in a modest English edition of 3,500 copies, is Graham Greene’s masterpiece, his most popular book. Based upon less than two months spent in Mexico in March and April of 1938, the novel of Greene is his “least English”, containing only a few minor English characters. And when I read it I completely agreed with the Catholic teacher (I found the excerpt of the letter, which I placed as an epigraph in the beginning of my report, in periodical literature before I finished reading the book) who wrote to Graham Greene – “descriptions were so vivid, your priest is so real” – I felt that characters were real. I’ve never been in Mexico, and I can’t say were these events and descriptions of them true or false, but I can say that they are very realistic. The novel reflects the author’s interest in Mexico and his experience as a resident of that country. A Mexican priest in 1978 told to Greene’s biographer, Norman Sherry: “As a Mexican I traveled in those regions. The first three paragraphs, where he gives you camera shots of the place, why it is astounding. You are in the place”.
Greene’s reality showed me the Mexico, than I’ve never seen before. But the most interesting thing, from my point of view is that the story occurred many times in many places before and after the appearance of the book. As an example I can take the country, where I was born – Russian revolution in 1917 resulted the same persecution of priests and Church.
Greene deals masterfully with the mystery of the God, with people’s beliefs. In The Power and the Glory Greene illustrates God’s kindness as it defies the violent, atheistic government through the faith of his flawed, but still faithful people. And as the communism begins to spread all over the world, Greene’s book assures the reader that there is a God, who will never leave us, and the evil will never win him.