The Power And The Glory
: “The Roof Couldn’t Keep Out This Rain” Essay, Research Paper
The Power and the Glory:
"The roof couldn’t keep out this rain." (p. 152)
"Hope is an instinct only the reasoning human mind can kill. An animal never knows despair."
-Graham Greene, "The Power and the Glory" (p. 141)
In Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, setting is essential in understanding the spiritual conquest of the main character. The story takes place in post-revolution Mexico of the nineteen-thirties, where Catholicism has been banned. The government has shut down all of the churches and established anti-Catholic laws, jealous of the rising power of the church, and nervous of the corrupt ways in which the church has been dealing with sin. The main character, a nameless "whiskey priest," hopelessly roams the desolate plains of southern Mexico, on the run from the law, as the only priest left who has not denounced his fatherhood. The surrounding communities in southern Mexico refuse to harbor the priest because of the drastic repercussions from the police. The priest feels guilty about his pride in being an inadequate priest and a sinner, but has come to terms with the eternal damnation he will face in the afterlife. The physical and cultural settings in The Power and Glory guide the reader through an odyssey of one man’s struggle to find meaning in the world, as it parallels the priest’s internal perspective, and symbolizes his redemptive conversion and his final unconscious achievement of martyrdom.
Ater the Mexican Revolution, the Mexican government established anti-Catholic laws against the churches. The government dismissed the Church’s system of redemption, and became jealous of the Church’s rising influence over society. This system required "sinners" to pay the church money in order to escape eternal damnation in the afterlife. "And the priest came round with the collecting bag, taking their centavos, abusing them for their small comforting sins, and sacrificing nothing at all in return- except a little sexual indulgence." (pp. 22-3) Every priest denounced their profession and became married in order to remain lawful citizens. However, this "whiskey priest" "felt bound to his sin by love? And when we love our sin then we are damned indeed." (pp. 172-3) The priest claims he is too proud to denounce his fatherhood, and roams southern Mexico as a fugitive from the law. "He was a bad priest, he knew it." (p. 60)
The priest encounters nothing but the desolate plains of southern Mexico and the cultural depression of its poverty-stricken lands.
Half a dozen huts of mud and wattle stood ina clearing;
two were in ruins. A few pigs routed round, and an old
woman carried a burning ember from hut to hut, lighting
a little fire on the centre of each floor to fill the hut with
smoke and keep mosquitos away.
Everybody the priest encounters will not harbour him because of fear of the law. These barren lands symbolize the priest’s feeling of worthlesness and rejection from God, and the feeling of inevitable sin and the impossibility of martyrdom. "’I don’t know how to repent.’ That was true: he had lost the faculty. He couldn’t say to himself that he wished his sin had never existed, because the sin seemed to him now so unimportant and he loved the fruit of it… our sins have so much beauty." (p. 128,130) The priest continues to create damage as several innocent members of passing communities are executed by the police for not being able to provide adequate information on the priest’s course of action. The priest’s developing knowledge of the damage he is creating adds guilt to his anxiety, and he continues to question God about the meaning behind his situation.
It infuriated him to think that there were still people in the state
who believed in a loving and merciful God. There are mystics
who are said to have experienced God directly. He was a mystic,
too, and what he had experienced was vacancy- a complete
certainty in the existence of a dying, cooling world, of human
beings who had evolved from animals for no pupose at all.
As the priest becomes more humble from self-awareness, he becomes less self-centered and begins to regret his careless sins in the past and develops a more compassionate mindframe. "’Oh God, forgive me – I am proud, lustful, greedy man? They deserve a martyr to care for them- not a man like me, who loves all the wrong things.’" (p.95) In a dangerous effort, he visits his bastard child from his old town. The priest begins to understand that, "?one must love every soul as if it were one’s own child. The passion to protect must extend itself over a world." (p.82) When he finally sees his daughter, he has a revelation about the interconnected essence of God in its connection with love and human nature.
‘Oh God, help her. Damn me, I deserve it, but let her live for ever.’
This was the love he should have felt for every soul in the world:
all the fear and the wish to save concentrated unjustly on the one
child. He beagn to weep; it was as if he had to watch her from the
shore drown slowly because he had forgotten how to swim. He
thought: This is what I should feel all the time for everyone?
The priest is ostracized from his old community after he visits his daughter, but finds himself in a change of setting. In a quietly powerful scene, the priest reaches a town with a large white church, free of anti-catholic laws. Here is hope.
The setting provides several symbols that reflect the priest’s newfound hope and developing self-confidence as a compassionate human being. The priest finally finds a town that has a church, where he is able to hold confessionals for the town people. A seasonal down pouring becomes a symbolic cleansing of the priest’s pride in sin, and his guilt and anxiety about his duty in life. He comes to understand that: "Even a coward has a sense of duty." (p. 190) At the end of the story, the priest is willingly lead to a dying murderer for confessional, knowing he is being set up and will be apprehended by the police.
?the soul? held absolution and peace at the final moment,
after a lifetime of the most hideous crime? The priest
hurriedly whispered the words of conditional absolution,
in case, for one second before it crossed the border, the
spirit had repented? He prayed: ‘O merciful God, after all
he was thinking of me, it was for my sake?’
The priest sacrifices his life for the sake of duty and Oneness with God and humanity. And the priest unconsciously exemplifies the humble and unselfish sacrifice of a martyr as he faces the firing squad:
He felt only an immense dissapointment because he had
to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It
seemed to him, at that moment, that it would have been
quite easy to have been a saint. It would have only needed
a little self-restraint and a little courage. He felt like someone
who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place.
He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted-
to be a saint.
By the end of the story, the priest achieves martyrdom, and proves himself worthy of becoming a saint, aside the rest of the Holy priests.
Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory details the evolution of a man’s character as he struggles to understand God and his sense of duty as a priest, and as a human being. In this story, setting is one of the most important tools in reflecting the internal landscape of the main character. This idea is essential in understanding the Oneness between Mother Nature and human nature. The divinity in ourselves becomes apparent when we begin to understand humanity as a unified child of God, and therefore, our duty to treat everybody with compassion and "?love every soul as if it were one’s own child." (p. 82) Our (internal) Self is a reflection of our relationship with the rest of he world. Jesus Christ explained this idea in the seldom read, "Book of Thomas," when he said: "For whoever has not known Himself knows nothing, but he who has known Himself has already understood the depths of all things." The irony and paradox of this priest’s journey through sin and lawlesness to achieve a revelatory understanding about his obligation to openly love himself and humanity, demonstrates the complexity of life all human beings are plagued with in a universal search to understand Thyself, (and/or, God). This "whiskey priest" becomes One with life, and demonstrates "the power and the glory," when he finally understands: "’Love is not wrong, but love should be happy and open- it is only wrong when it is secret, unhappy? It can be more unhappy than anything but the loss of God. It is the loss of God.’"(p.172)