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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 3 | Summary



The priest is locked in a communal cell. Some cellmates complain about the crowding, about a lack of water, and about their relatives who have not come to pay their bail. Others are less troubled: one couple is having sex throughout most of the chapter. In the darkness, the priest reveals his identity to the entire room. One older and pious woman, in jail for having religious material in her house, argues with him, warning him he has endangered his own life. Later, she reprimands him for being a bad priest and shows deep contempt for him.

Finding a new level of honesty, he admits his alcoholism and tells them about his daughter. He reflects on his own ideas about God. He is afraid of death and pain but also welcomes the idea of not running anymore. He thinks he is a bad priest and wonders if he would do more good by dying or by running away. In the cell, he has a confrontation with traditional religion, personified by the religious woman. He has his own theology now, his own belief that is far more forgiving than Church doctrine. He encourages the woman, snobbish and self-righteous, not to look down on people so much, not to be so angry and ready to condemn others because they do not meet expectations. Rigid and unrelenting in her traditional beliefs, she criticizes him: "It's people like you who make people mock—at real religion."

When morning comes, the priest expects to be recognized and shot. Instead, he is ordered to clean up the cells and dump the buckets the prisoners use for toilets. As he does so, he sees the hostages taken because people would not identify him and thinks it "a damnable mockery that they should sacrifice themselves" for him. He discovers the mestizo, now living off the police while they wait for him to identify the priest. The mestizo recognizes him but decides not to say anything for a time because he is enjoying his life at the moment, as the police see to his needs. The priest is sent before the lieutenant, who scolds him for drinking. The lieutenant thinks he looks familiar but does not realize he is the priest. In fact, aware he has no money, the lieutenant offers him a five-peso coin. The priest takes it in shock and says, "You're a good man."


The priest has nowhere to go: he has been caught. Greene uses his captivity to explore some of the ideas on which the novel is based: the nature of sin, what it means to be "good," and the challenge of an absolutist religion in a world full of nuance. The priest spends much of his night in conversation with a pious woman who serves as an antagonist for the scene. The woman represents traditional church thinking and practice; she even threatens to write a letter to the bishop, reprimanding the priest for his behavior. The priest represents a new theology, a new way of looking at God and the world.

The traditional Catholic Church in the 1930s was governed for the most part by absolute, stringent rules, which the woman has spent her life following. The priest, on the other hand, has developed his ability to sympathize with people and to stray from doctrine when the occasion demands. However, empathy does not seem to have been used much in his old life; but, now he has seen far more. He is thus able to connect more easily with this woman, with the couple having sex in the corner, and even with the mestizo who wants to turn him in. The priest comments sarcastically about the reward offered for him: "To commit so ugly a sin ... and to have no compensation ... wouldn't be fair." Again, his statements and perspectives echo the Bible: when Jesus is on the cross, he asks God to forgive those who have crucified him. Jesus does not judge people by their sins; neither does the priest. However, he does emphasize how unworthy he is to be considered a martyr, a claim with which the pious woman agrees.

The priest has several "near miss" moments in this chapter when he is almost recognized. In a moment of situational irony, he confesses his identity in the jail cell, and nothing happens. He sees the hostages who were taken for his sake in the yard, and they do not acknowledge him. Although the mestizo does recognize him, the man chooses to stay quiet since he has his basic needs presently met and so he can collect the full reward for catching the priest. What is most interesting is the priest's reaction to these events: he is ready to be caught, relieved to stop running. When the mestizo lets him go, "he felt only regret." But he knows why he remains free: God is not yet ready for him to be caught. God wants him to continue to minister to people, although the priest cannot imagine which people, where they are, and how he will do it without wine. But, he believes God has decided he must keep living, at least for now.

The lieutenant offers the final surprise of the chapter. In his zeal to capture the priest and rid the country of the pernicious influence of the Church, the lieutenant ironically does not recognize the priest; he even gives the priest some money to live on. The lieutenant's failure is surprising, as the lieutenant is more alert and professional than most of the other police officers. The narrator notes the lieutenant's behavior: "almost as if the lieutenant had something on his conscience." The priest's false name is the same as a man the lieutenant executed: does the lieutenant feel guilty for the execution? Or, does he feel generous to an older man he thinks is a beggar? In any case, the priest says the lieutenant is "a good man," and Greene wants readers to believe it—from the priest's limited viewpoint. The lieutenant may execute civilian hostages and plan to execute the priest; nevertheless, he is still a good man. Greene is offering another example of the sympathy and forgiveness in the priest's theology.

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