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The Power and the Glory | Study Guide

Graham Greene

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



A "man in the shabby drill suit" is sitting in the city plaza when a beggar accosts him. After some conversation, the man says he wishes he could obtain wine. The beggar promises to help him get some, and they head off. The man in the drill suit seems uneasy when he sees the police marching by with a mestizo among them. The beggar urges him to keep going.

The man buys brandy and wine from the Governor's cousin, who seems to expect a drink for his trouble. The man offers, but the cousin drinks most of the bottle of wine. The man in drill sticks to brandy. As they drink and talk, the Chief of Police arrives and complains about finding the wayward priest, while he helps the cousin finish the wine. When the man in the drill suit begins to cry, they scold him for being drunk and send him on his way.

The man bumps into a Red Shirt (a revolutionary) who spots his bottle, and the man—the priest, although Greene does not name him—runs away. He goes to Padre José's house and asks to be hidden, but Padre José refuses. The priest is arrested and brought to the police station where he discovers his own portrait hanging on the wall. He gives them a false name, Montez, but is sure he will be discovered. Instead, when they realize he has no money, they toss him in the communal jail cell overnight.


Greene has a certain fascination with anonymity. The priest never is named, and this chapter is the second time he is presented almost as a new character: "the man in the shabby drill suit." The repeated anonymity for the priest forces readers to view him and his situation from the outside, paying attention to clues in his speech and behavior to figure out what is happening. It also reminds readers of the priest's external appearance, something he no longer bothers about much. The changed appearance and initial doubt about his identity contribute to the story's suspense—and there is no doubt that part of the story is indeed a suspense story about a fugitive and a relentless pursuer, and Greene is an expert at creating tension. This incident is also a reminder of the risks the priest faces: he must keep moving to avoid arrest and, subsequently, execution. The reader may feel judgmental about the priest and his many weaknesses. By removing those personal details, Greene pushes the reader to consider the priest as a generic individual. Should any person feel as hunted as the priest does? Greene wants the reader to sympathize with this suffering man, regardless of his personal weaknesses.

Whatever the lieutenant's aspirations for his glorious new world, the Chief of Police and the others are ordinary humans with ordinary weaknesses. The priest buys his illegal alcohol from the Governor's cousin, and the Chief of Police looks on and does nothing. The priest tries his best to get wine so he can continue to say Mass, and when others drink it, the priest begins to cry, seeing "all the hope of the world draining away" as the bottle is drained. The priest cries many times in the book, usually from exhaustion. Greene is clear in this instance: he is not crying because he is tired or drunk. He is crying because he once again is failing in his responsibilities as a priest. Without wine, he cannot say Mass. The priest must continue to wonder why he should remain and risk his life.

When caught for possessing alcohol, he prepares himself for death. He tries to recite the Act of Contrition, a prayer Catholics say in confession to show God how much a sinner regrets the sins committed. The priest attempts to cleanse his soul before death as best as he can. He stands there, facing his own picture on the wall, and, somehow, no one recognizes him.

There are several implications in the failure to recognize the priest. On a literal level, the priest's appearance has changed because of his difficult life; Maria also struggled to recognize him. He has lost weight and is more disheveled than he was at the time of the photograph. On another level, it may also suggest something about the people chasing him. They are chasing an image, a symbol, what they think a priest looks like. Because the real priest does not fit their image, they overlook him. In the same way, Greene repeatedly uses anonymity to draw the reader into the priest's experience without realizing he is a priest. A priest, as Greene recognizes, is always a symbol. Green wants the reader to see both a man and a symbol. The Red Shirts and officers see him solely as a man in this chapter, and that is why he survives.

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