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The Power and the Glory | Study Guide

Graham Greene

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The Power and the Glory | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Part 1

On a hot afternoon in Mexico in 1938, Mr. Tench, an English dentist, waits for a boat. He strikes up a conversation with another English-speaking man who claims to be a "quack" doctor. In truth, the man is a priest, now in hiding because the revolutionary government has forbidden the practice of Catholicism, and priests must either leave or marry. He is a "whisky priest," an alcoholic priest who has stayed in Tabasco, a southern Mexican state, during a Catholic purge but now intends to escape on the boat to Vera Cruz. However, when a child brings news of a sick woman, the priest goes with the child and gives up his chance of fleeing.

In the capital city, a police lieutenant is eager to destroy any reminder of "the old days." He is hunting the priest, as well as an American criminal, the Gringo, wanted for bank robbery and murder. The lieutenant sees the priest as the biggest threat to his community and gets permission to take hostages to force villagers to give up the priest.

The lieutenant visits a banana company outpost, where he meets the Fellows family: Captain Fellows, his wife, and his 13-year-old daughter, Coral. Coral refuses to let the lieutenant search the outpost where the priest, now on the run, is hiding. The priest stays overnight and then moves on.

Part 2

The priest travels to the home of a former lover, Maria, and his daughter, Brigitta. The child, Brigitta, is now six, and he has not seen her in years. Maria insists the villagers allow him to stay. However, now the lieutenant is taking hostages, and the priest is no longer welcome. He says Mass for them, but the lieutenant and his men interrupt. Maria and Brigitta protect the priest, but the lieutenant takes another man from the village as a hostage. The priest leaves. Along the way, he meets a mestizo, a half-Indian, half-Spanish man. The mestizo suspects he is a priest and wants to turn him in for the reward, but the priest escapes.

In another town, the priest attempts to buy some wine for saying Mass, as well as some brandy for himself. Possession of alcohol is illegal, and he is arrested and thrown in jail, even though he made the purchase from the Governor's cousin. In the communal jail cell, no one recognizes him. Almost relieved to be captured, he admits he is a priest, but his cellmates do not give him up. The next morning, however, the mestizo spots him. The mestizo now lives with the police so he is available to identify the priest, but he chooses to say nothing at this time because he enjoys the easy life he is living at the expense of the police and wishes to collect the reward for capturing the priest himself. The priest is summoned before the lieutenant, who still does not recognize him, even though an old picture hangs in the police station. Instead, the lieutenant releases the priest and even gives him a little money.

The priest returns to the banana outpost, but the Fellows family is gone. The priest encounters an Indian woman with a nearly dead child. Apparently the child was shot accidentally during a standoff with the Gringo. The priest and the woman travel together until they reach consecrated ground, where the woman leaves her now-deceased child. The priest continues to wander, soon becoming ill. Eventually, he finds himself in a safe place across the state border in a village that has not outlawed religious practices.

Part 3

The priest stays with Mr. and Miss Lehr, a Lutheran brother and sister. They don't exactly approve of him, but they agree to let him stay for a time until he regains his strength. The priest hears confessions and arranges for Mass and baptisms. As he becomes more of a functioning priest out of hiding, he can feel himself slipping back into the way he behaved before, in better days: speaking disdainfully to people and demanding they pay heavily for his services. After he says Mass, however, the mestizo is waiting for him.

The mestizo says the American criminal has been shot. He is dying and wants the priest. Although the priest does not believe the mestizo and senses a trap, he goes anyway. The American is still alive when he arrives and tries to send the priest away so the priest will not be captured. As soon as the American dies, the lieutenant appears.

Since it is raining too hard to travel, the priest and the lieutenant retreat inside. They discuss their differing views on people and religion. The lieutenant thinks the priest is a good man, despite his religious occupation. They travel back to the city, where the priest is put on trial and convicted in his absence. The night before the priest's execution, the lieutenant brings the priest some alcohol and leaves him alone in his cell. The priest tries to envision his own confession, but struggles to regret the sin of Brigitta.

Part 4

The next morning is the day of the priest's execution. Captain and Mrs. Fellows have not changed, but something unspeakable has happened to Coral, who is no longer with them. The Chief of Police, suffering from toothache, summons Mr. Tench, the dentist. As Mr. Tench sets up, he witnesses the priest's execution. Disturbed, Mr. Tench vows he will leave Mexico. That night another priest, newly arrived, is quietly welcomed at the home of Luis, who opens the door and invites him inside.

The Power and the Glory Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 The hunted priest talks with Mr. Tench and misses the boat.

Rising Action

2 The lieutenant proposes taking hostages.

3 The priest is almost caught visiting Maria and Brigitta.

4 The priest meets the venal mestizo.

5 The priest is arrested for possessing alcohol.

6 The lieutenant doesn't recognize him and lets him go.

7 The exhausted priest wanders until he finds a safe village.

8 Aware of a trap, the priest willingly goes with the mestizo.


9 Attending to the dying American, the priest is arrested.

Falling Action

10 The priest and the lieutenant talk about their beliefs.

11 The priest is executed.


12 Another priest is welcomed to town.

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