The Power and the Glory | Study Guide

Graham Greene

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

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Summary

The priest heads to an unnamed village. Although he associates the village with sin, the priest happily goes there. When he arrives, his sin becomes clear: he had a sexual relationship with a woman named Maria, and they have a six-year-old daughter, Brigitta, whom he has not seen since she was born.

No one in the village is happy to see him, including Maria, and he learns the police are executing hostages in an attempt to locate him. He promises to stay for only a few hours: sleep a little, say Mass, and then leave. He struggles to sleep because he wonders about Brigitta and Maria. He seems to have little feeling left for Maria, but he loves Brigitta, whom the narrator describes as "sharpened by hunger into an appearance of devilry and malice beyond her age." Maria, too, finds her daughter nasty, and the narrator further describes the child as on the threshold of sin.

The priest is saying Mass when the police arrive. He consumes the communion bread and wine himself, and Maria gives him an onion to bite on so his breath will not smell of wine. The lieutenant questions everyone in the village and seems suspicious of the priest, but Maria saves him. She insists the priest is her husband and tells the lieutenant to ask Brigitta who her father is. Seeing Brigitta point at the priest, the lieutenant is satisfied. Once the police have left, the priest prepares to leave. To protect him, Maria threw away his case and destroyed the stash of sacramental wine. But, in his case are papers he needs, so he heads to the trash dump to find them. There, he encounters Brigitta and tries to tell her how much he loves her and how much God loves her; she is not interested.

He continues traveling. Near the bank of a river he encounters a mestizo, a half-Indian man. He tries to ask the mestizo some questions about where to go next but gets limited answers. Yet once he keeps going, the mestizo follows him.

The mestizo has guessed the priest's identity and keeps trying to trick him into admitting it. The priest does not trust the mestizo and avoids acknowledging anything at first. They spend the night together in a hut in the jungle. The priest thinks back to life before, when he was well respected and spent his time handling parish business. He resents the mestizo but chastises himself for doing so. The priest thinks he is no better than the mestizo; both are sinful. When the priest tries to escape, the mestizo hears him, and they continue on together, the mestizo whining about feeling sick and asking the priest to give him communion or do anything to intercede with God on his behalf. Finally, the priest acknowledges who he is. They approach the next village, and the priest sends the mestizo on alone. The mestizo grows angry—he will not get to claim a reward if he doesn't have the priest with him—and shouts a stream of abuse at the departing priest, promising, "I don't forget a face."

Analysis

In Part 1, Greene establishes the priest's need to hide from the authorities. In Part 2, readers learn more about the priest largely through his own reflections: "He was a bad priest, he knew it." The priest knows he is a failure, literally facing the personification of his failure when he meets his daughter, Brigitta. In Chapter 2, readers learn the rumor of the whisky priest drunkenly baptizing a boy "Brigitta." Is his secret daughter on his mind so much?

Brigitta is a strange child, "sharpened by hunger into an appearance of devilry and malice beyond her age." On a literal level, this description makes sense: an illegitimate child, conceived by a priest and raised in poverty, would doubtless grow up faster. From a religious perspective, though, her knowledge is troubling. She has an adult's doubts about religion and repeats suggestive comments made to her by other children, comments about whether the priest is "good for" a woman. At age six, Brigitta should be ignorant of such ideas. The priest bargains with God for her soul: he will face "any kind of death—without contrition, in a state of sin—only save this child." Clearly the priest loves his daughter; according to the Catholic beliefs, dying in a state of sin risks one's eternal soul, particularly if the sins are serious, as the priest's are indeed. Thus, he is willing to suffer for eternity to save Brigitta.

Greene shows the priest saying Mass. Under ordinary circumstances, Catholics would attend Mass at least every week. During the rite, the priest reads from the Bible and then offers a homily on a reading, followed by the Eucharist, also called communion, a re-enactment of the Last Supper, at which Jesus shared bread and wine with his disciples. Catholics believe the priest transforms bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is what Greene means: "God was here in the body for the first time in six years."

Later in the chapter, another significant character, the mestizo, appears. Just as the priest and the lieutenant remain nameless, the mestizo is always referred to by a term that emphasizes his racial background. He is part Indian and part Spanish. At this time in Mexico, mestizos suffered discrimination because of their mixed heritage. The priest distrusts him, although it is unclear whether it is because of prejudice or because he has sensed "he was in the presence of Judas." In the Bible, Judas is the disciple who betrays Jesus for money. The priest believes the mestizo will do the same and turn him in to the authorities to collect the reward. He manages to avoid capture in this chapter, but the mestizo's warning foreshadows the turn of events.

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