Histroical Criticism Essay Research Paper Historical Criticism

Histroical Criticism Essay, Research Paper

Historical Criticism


The Power and the Glory


Graham Greene

Graham Greene s, The Power and the Glory, is a religious novel that shows the collision between religion and politics in a small state in Mexico during the 1930 s post revolution ( Facts of The Power and the Glory by Wolters and Noordhoff, 1994). This struggle between the Church and the State is as a result of the five articles of the 1917 Constitution. Article 3 called for secular education in the schools; Article 5 outlawed monastic orders; Article 24 forbade public worship outside the confines of churches; and Article 27 placed restrictions on the right of religious organizations to hold property. Article 130, which was most obnoxious to Catholics, deprived clergy members of basic rights and made them in effect second-class citizens. Priests and nuns were denied the right to wear clerical attire, to vote, to criticize government officials or to comment on public affairs in religious periodicals (Constitution of 1917, Art. 130. Law of November 25, 1926, Art. 5). It was this last Article that is the main focus of The Power and The Glory .

The Power and the Glory explores this corruption and atonement through a down and out Roman Catholic priest and the people that he encounters. When small Mexican state outlawed the Church, naming it a source of greed and debauchery, the priests have been rounded up by firing squad and executed. There was only one priest that escaped the executions and lived in hiding, which was the whisky priest. The whisky priest represents the martyrdom of several individual priest that stood against the Mexican religious plight.

The whisky priest, who represents religion and is one of the main characters, earned his name because he drinks a lot of alcohol despite it being an illegal substance during this time period. Throughout the story, the whisky priest continuously fights with his alcoholism, his conscience and his faith, while stating that he is neither a brave man nor a saint. A saint can be defined as one of God’s chosen, usually Christian people ( Webster s New Twentieth Century Dictionary: of the English Language vol. 2 by Noah Webster , 1969). A brave person can be defined as someone who has allot of courage ( Webster s New Twentieth Century Dictionary: of the English Language vol. 1 by Noah Webster , 1969). In the novel The Power And The Glory, the whiskey priest states that he isn’t a saint and not even a brave man. Greene shows this was an accurate statement when he talks about the fact that the whiskey priest was an alcoholic; also that the whiskey priest let s himself commit a mortal sin. Greene shows this was an inaccurate statement because the priest doesn’t think just of himself and goes to help others in need and how the whiskey priest is able to forgive and forget very easily. The author Graham Greene shows throughout the novel this was an accurate and also inaccurate self-assessment of the whiskey priest.

Graham Greene demonstrates how brave and courageous the whiskey priest is when he is willing to forgive people that turn on him. The best example of this is when the

Mestizo tells the whiskey priest that a fellow fugitive is in trouble and needs his blessing. This is a trap that later costs the whiskey priest his life, but he is willing to overlook this. This is best shown when he eventually forgives and even prays for the Mestizo who betrayed him: The priest waved his hand; he bore no grudge because he expected nothing else of anything human… (P. 198) This shows that that whiskey priest is a forgiving man and this indeed helps to validate that the whiskey priests statement is inaccurate.

Graham Greene portrays to the reader that the whiskey priest thinks of others before himself. This is clearly evident when he goes to help the child’s dyeing mother even though he knows that he will miss his boat: But the stranger got up as though unwillingly he had been summoned to an occasion he couldn’t pass by. He said sadly,

It always seems to happen. Like this.

You’ll have a job not to miss the boat.

I shall miss it, he said. (P. 17)

This example displays that the whiskey priest is a good man and helps to prove the whiskey priests statement false.

On the other hand, Greene displays the accuracy of the whiskey priest’s statement when he shows how much of an alcoholic the whiskey priest was. There are many places throughout the novel when this is shown. First early in the novel when we first meet the whiskey priest and he reveals a flask of brandy from the side of his hip:

I have a little brandy, the stranger said.

Mr. Tench regarded him sharply. Where?

The hollow man put his hand to his hip- … (P. 11)

Also when the lieutenant asks the whiskey priest if he would like one final drink:

I’ve brought you some brandy.

Against the law?


It’s very good of you. He took the small flask. (P.206)

These examples show the whiskey priest is an alcoholic and that the statement was accurate. To the extreme of not being a saint, the whiskey priest commits a mortal sin of having a sexual relationship with Maria and getting her pregnant. Later abandoning his daughter Brigitta: When you-know-what happened, I was proud. I thought the good days would come back. It’s not everyone who’s a priest’s women. And the child I thought you could do a lot for her. But you might as well be a thief for all the good… (P. 79) This quote is used to show that the whiskey priest is not saintly and that his statement was correct.

Greene proves the whiskey priest s self-assessment, that he isn t a saint and not even a brave man; throughout the novel that this was an accurate but inaccurate statement by the whiskey priest. The whiskey priest even though being alcoholic and committing a mortal sin was still able to make the right decision to help the dyeing mother and forget the sins of the betrayer. Graham Greene portrayed the whiskey priest as a saintly and brave man. The priest hopelessly roams the desolate plains of southern Mexico, only to ultimately become a martyr at the hands of the police lieutenant.

The police lieutenant, the main adversary, represents the communistic politician who wants to destroy Catholicism. Alvaro Obreg n, president of Mexico between 1920-24 was such a politician. In 1917, when the anti-Catholic measures were enacted, Mexico’s chief executive was Venustiano Carranza. Obreg n and Carranza, once allies, became enemies and Obreg n overthrew Carranza in 1919. On assuming the presidency, Obreg n lost no time demonstrating the qualities that had led him to be called El Invicto — “the undefeated”. Tough, ambitious and clever, Obreg n –though no friend of the Church– was pragmatic enough to follow a policy of applying the anti-Catholic measures selectively. They were rigidly enforced in areas where Catholic sentiment was weak, laxly or not at all in regions where it was strong.

This uneasy way of living, which involved a temporary agreement between Obregon and the Catholics, came to an end when Plutarco El as Calles succeeded Obreg n. A morose, stubborn man, Calles was a fanatic bent on exterminating Catholicism in Mexico. Not only would he enforce the constitutional provisions with equal vigor throughout the country but he would add anti-Catholic legislation of his own. In June 1926 he signed a decree officially known as “The Law for Reforming the Penal Code” and unofficially as the “Calles Law.” Where the constitutional articles had been general, the Calles Law was very specific. Priests were fined 500 pesos (about $250 at the time) for wearing clerical garb and could be imprisoned five years for criticizing the government ( The Holy War In Los Altos: A Regional Analysis of Mexico s Cristero Rebellion by Jim Tuck, 1982). He believes that the Church is corrupt because it requires a fee in order to perform baptisms. He believes that this practice is making his people poor. Additionally, he views this as a way for the rich to buy a place in heaven, which is not an afforded privilege for the poor.

The setting is very important in this story, for it reflects the internal landscape of the main character by revealing his struggles.


Graham Greene was content to observe a passing parade and report upon it in his quite limited journalistic style. By not having observed any of the events first hand as Greene s writings just do not quite ring true as do the works of many writers of historical events. Graham Greene has very limited observational perspective in his works of fiction and because his fiction is not particularly based upon actual historical facts, his work suffers a great deal. Indeed, one could say, as many do, Graham Greene was more of a commercial writer than other writers and therefore this offers an explanation for why his works are considered greater literature than the works of those writers.

Greene s publishes the work The Power and the Glory, in 1940, and does not receive much of a reception throughout the UK as the nation was pre-occupied with wartime problems. This, of course, pushed all literature into a second-class category where national priorities were concerned. Into this wartime mix, one must add the fact that the work is a religious novel, in which the Catholic Church suffers enormously in Mexico. With religious groups around the globe, being punished for whatever reasons one shall readily observe the reasons why the work, at first, was not at all widely accepted. Green s works are criticized because of his Catholic content. However, Catholicism as a public system of laws and dogmas is far from being an adequate key to Greene’s fiction. There is a good deal of evidence, internal and external, that in Greene’s fiction Catholicism is not a body of belief requiring exposition and demanding categorical assent or dissent, but a system of concepts, a source of situations, and a reservoir of symbols with which he can order and dramatize certain intuitions about the nature of human experience intuitions which were gained prior to and independently of his formal adoption of the Catholic faith. Regarded in this light, Greene’s Catholicism may be seen not as a crippling burden on his artistic freedom, but as a positive artistic asset (http://members.tripod.com/ greeneland/critics.htm, Lodge).

Greene is a very symbolic writer, as seen by several examples in The Power and the Glory. Some of the elements he uses are characters, symbolism and setting. The element of fiction was used to show the main theme with the ultimate theme being Grace and Sin, the struggle between divine grace and human weakness in the priest. The Power and the Glory details the evolution of a man’s character as he struggles to understand God, his sense of duty as a priest, and as a human being. Another element that Greene used to reveal his theme was pity. This pity was for a fellow human being who struggles to understand his sense of duty as a priest, and as a human being.

Greene also incorporates animals in this novel to represent symbolism. This use of animal imagery is used frequently throughout the story. These basic themes are used to equate to human nature. For example, the priest was equated to Jesus who rode a mule. In the novel, the priest rides a mule too. Vultures, which are birds that feed upon decaying flesh, were used to symbolize death.

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