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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 4 : The Bystanders | Summary



Starting to write a letter to his estranged wife, Mr. Tench finds himself thinking back to the strange man who shared a drink with him. Padre José goes for a walk in the graveyard, hoping to avoid the children who tease him. Instead he meets a family burying a young child. They ask him to say a prayer for the child's soul, but he refuses. His action causes the family more grief than the five-year-old child's death itself, for "they had been used to losing children, but they hadn't been used to ... the hope which peters out."

As for other bystanders, Coral, being educated at home by her mother, is continuing to manage her parents' responsibilities even though she too is not well. When Coral asks her mother whether she believes in God and the virgin birth, Mrs. Fellows gets upset. In another home the Catholic mother is still reading to her children about the sainted Juan, but her son Luis, who admires the revolutionaries rather than the Christian martyr, complains until he is sent out of the room to talk to his father. Although not much of a believer, the father tells his son the Church provided a sense of community. Later, Luis encounters the lieutenant in the street. The lieutenant has just received permission from the Chief of Police to take hostages to force the priest out of hiding. Although the lieutenant is distracted, he appreciates Luis's fascination with his gun, and they have a friendly moment before the boy runs off.


The first three chapters are named for locations, but this one focuses on the characters whose lives coincide with the priest's. The narrator devotes part of the chapter to updating readers on the progress of minor plotlines that will resurface later. Greene provides an assortment of characters with different viewpoints on the priest, religion, and the country of Mexico. This helps the reader compare and contrast these various perspectives.

The focus of the chapter is Luis: his lack of interest in religion and his revolutionary fervor. The boy finds his mother's religious book unbelievable. No doubt Greene chooses a hyperbolic and stiff style for the story about Juan to encourage readers to sympathize with young Luis. Just as Juan burns with excitement about religion, Luis burns with enthusiasm about the revolutionary "gospel" and the "martyrs" who died for the cause. He describes playing with his friends: "I was Madero: Pedro had to be Huerta ... Manuel ... he was Carranza." Francisco Madera was president of Mexico until he was assassinated, making way for Victoriano Huerta's presidency. Huerta was despotic, and many, including Pancho Villa and Venustiano Carranza, fought against him. These events occurred before 1920, at least a decade before Luis was born, but he believes in them far more than in his mother's religious tales.

The chapter contains two parallel scenes of mothers teaching their children. Mrs. Fellows is teaching Coral at home, archaic and irrelevant lessons that have little interest for Coral. She seems more engaged by her brief encounter with the priest, prompting theological questions of her mother—much to her mother's discomfort. The mother reading to her children does not engage her son, Luis, in the story of the martyr.

The lieutenant sympathizes with Luis's revolutionary zeal. The lieutenant feels a sense of happiness; his emotions could even be considered love for Luis and the children like him: in fact, the lieutenant is "quite prepared to make a massacre for their sakes." The lieutenant thinks of his own painful childhood and wants to "begin the world again" for these children, saving them from the suffering he experienced, from "all that was poor, superstitious, and corrupt." Greene suggests later in the book the lieutenant is of Indian ancestry; native Mexicans were mistreated and abused by Mexicans of Spanish descent, and thus the lieutenant might have faced discrimination while growing up and indifference, if not hostility, from the Catholic Church, which, the narrator suggests throughout the book, turned its back on the poor.

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