The Power and the Glory | Study Guide

Graham Greene

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The Power and the Glory | Part 4 | Summary

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Summary

Captain and Mrs. Fellows are alone in the town. Mrs. Fellows moans about her illnesses and Captain Fellows seems ill at ease. Coral is not present, and the conversation suggests she is dead or possibly in a place where she is inaccessible to them. Mrs. Fellows wants to leave Mexico, but Captain Fellows likes the work and feels bad about leaving Coral (presumably her grave). He mentions the priest who is scheduled for execution and wonders if he is the one Coral helped.

Mr. Tench the dentist visits the Chief of Police to tend to his teeth. He chats about his estranged wife, but a sound outside startles him. He realizes the priest's execution will take place just outside the window. He recognizes the priest and feels bad as he sees him shot.

The religious mother continues to read about Juan the martyr to her children. Juan dies blissfully, happy to go to God. Luis, the skeptical boy, asks his mother if the priest who was shot is now a martyr. The mother did not think highly of the priest when he lived but now says the priest was a martyr. The boy's attitude changes by having had a "hero" in the house. He sees the lieutenant, whom he once admired. When the lieutenant smiles at him, the boy spits. Late that night, he hears knocking at the door. A stranger stands there, introducing himself as a priest. The boy is excited to hear it and lets the man into his home.

Analysis

Greene uses parallel structure in much of the book: two visits to the banana outpost, and here, at the end of the book, another "bystanders" chapter. Like Part 1, Chapter 4 this chapter focuses on those characters that touch the priest's life and whose lives the priest has affected. The priest mattered because he was a symbol, as the lieutenant knows. Although Captain and Mrs. Fellows are far more affected by the loss of Coral, Captain Fellows also thinks of the priest and Coral's brief encounter with him, wondering "if he'd told her things" because of how she spoke after he was gone. Mrs. Fellows wants to leave the country. Captain Fellows does not, but seems likely to go with his wife rather than stay in Mexico alone. For Mr. Tench, the priest's execution feels personal and increases his desire to leave. Perhaps he too has stayed too long. Greene revisits the various sufferings of these bystanders. Some people's suffering is resolved: the Chief of Police gets his toothache seen to, for example. Others, like the Fellows couple and Mr. Tench, do not have clean, easy conclusions to their stories.

The narrator returns to the family reading about Juan the martyr. The priest's death is already transforming the rumor about him. The mother says the priest is a martyr, and Luis, the doubting boy, has a new interest in priests because they have had a hero in their house. The priest worried about being a martyr because he saw himself as anything but a hero. Instead, the priest's death makes faith real to Luis in a way nothing else has. He now rejects the lieutenant and welcomes another priest into his family home. Thus, as a symbol of the future, the child Luis and his change of heart imply Catholicism is not dead for the next generation.

The book ends with the new priest's arrival. Luis does not let him say his name, so he remains anonymous, as the whisky priest was. The ending is ambiguous. Greene seems to assert that the priest's death has helped enable the practice of religion to continue, even in places where it is illegal. The book celebrates faith over practice: the idea that belief in God is good, even if the belief comes from a sinner, even if the belief is not supported by the formal trappings of traditional religious practice. If the whisky priest has helped spread faith, maybe he is a kind of saint, after all.

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