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The Power and the Glory | Study Guide

Graham Greene

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The Power and the Glory | Part 1, Chapter 2 : The Capital | Summary



A squad of police, led by a lieutenant, returns to the police station. The lieutenant seeks out his jefe, his boss, the Chief of Police, in pain from a toothache. He has just seen the governor of the state, who is angry because a priest is loose in their region. When the lieutenant mentions not having a photograph of the priest, the governor produces one from an old newspaper. The lieutenant hangs the photo on the wall next to a mug shot of James Calver, an American criminal on the run in Mexico. The priest, the son of a storekeeper, speaks English and can "pass" for a gringo (non-Latino) as well.

Showing intense anger toward the priest and considering him a threat, the lieutenant shows approval of, even admiration for, the American criminal, "a man at any rate." The chief's anticlerical sentiments are similar; both want to rid the area of the last remaining priest. The lieutenant suggests they take a hostage from each village and shoot the person if the villagers don't stop protecting the priest. With the chief willing to consider the idea, the lieutenant heads home, thinking about life before the Revolution. He hates life as it was during his childhood and wishes he could wipe out everything from before five years ago.

The scene shifts to a family's home. A mother reads to her two little girls while her teenage son listens reluctantly. The mother reads about Juan, a young Mexican boy who suffers persecution because of his faith and who ends up as a martyr. The girls listen, but the boy asks questions about a "whisky priest" who visited them, a religious man who is often drunk. The mother is embarrassed by the whisky priest, but she still helped him. She considers him better than Padre José.

Padre José was a priest. When the government gave priests a choice to be executed or to renounce their faith and marry as proof of renunciation, Padre José married his housekeeper; now, he suffers for his choice. He believes himself damned because he has forsaken God and envies the priests who were executed. Padre José feels the executed priests suffered less than he does, because their deaths were quick.


This chapter introduces the lieutenant, a passionate supporter of revolutionary ideals, eager to kill priests to protect his land from religion. However, in a way, the lieutenant is a priestlike figure himself. He dresses neatly and has ambition. He has "no need of women," and his room is compared to a "monastic cell." The narrator observes "something of a priest in his intent observant walk." Yet, he has all the fervor and discipline the whisky priest lacks. As a priest dedicates his life to a higher purpose, the lieutenant dedicates his life to making the country better than it was in his childhood. The lieutenant has difficult memories from childhood, which reflect poverty, discrimination, and perhaps mistreatment or lack of sympathy from Church officials. He believes a post-revolution, post-religion Mexico will be better for everyone.

In the early 20th century, many younger people turned from traditional religions and embraced new theories and ideals. Marxist and socialist beliefs rejected religion as counterproductive, or reactionary, in newer economic and social systems. Thus, many young people embraced Marxism and socialism as their parents or grandparents had embraced religion. The lieutenant is one of those young people. Centuries earlier, Catholics used the Inquisition to eliminate those they thought were an evil influence; now with similar fervor, the lieutenant will do the same to eliminate the priests.

From a portrait of a true believer in radical, anticlerical socialism, the author shifts to one of a family led by a true believer in Catholicism. The mother reads a religious book the narrator identifies as "whitewash," as the 14-year-old son knows as well. The book purports to tell the life story of a young Mexican boy martyred for his faith. However, the story is poorly written, and the young boy is portrayed as far too good to be true, and thus unbelievable and unsympathetic. For modern readers, this book might be analogous to the worst kind of TV after-school special with unrealistic dialogue used to preach an obvious moral. The mother attempts to use the book to bolster her children's faith at a time when Mass is forbidden and priests are few and far between. In fact, the children have seen only two: the whisky priest and Padre José. Although the mother maintains an outward show of respect toward the whisky priest, in private conversation she expresses her doubts about his behavior. She repeats a rumor about the whisky priest baptizing a child as "Brigitta." At the moment, the rumor serves as another example of the whisky priest's failings, although later the name will carry additional significance.

If the whisky priest presents one example of a religious man's failings, Padre José presents another. Indeed, they seem foils for each other. The elderly Padre José chose to renounce his calling and marry to avoid fleeing or being executed. His marriage is far from pleasant; he married his housekeeper, a woman he neither loves nor desires, who appreciates him only because they have a decent amount of money. José spends much of his time regretting his choice, seeing himself as a "sacrilege," an unholy use of a holy object, because as a priest he still had the power "of turning the wafer into the flesh and blood of God." José knows himself to be "in a continuous state of mortal sin." In Catholic teachings, mortal sins could condemn one's soul to hell. Padre José believes he has made a terrible choice and must live with it. He is no more worthy to represent God than the whisky priest. Padre José views the executed priests as martyrs. However, by living in a state of suffering, Padre José may endure more than the quick death of the executed priests.

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