The Power and the Glory | Study Guide

Graham Greene

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The Power and the Glory | Themes

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Suffering

Greene claims suffering is an integral part of life, and both physical and spiritual suffering pervade the lives of his characters. Throughout the novel, the priest is tormented by guilt, sin, and fear; he suffers illness, hunger, thirst, and exhaustion. People around him suffer as well. Villagers are shot when they are taken hostage. Mr. Tench suffers with pain in his stomach. Coral Fellows suffers because of her inadequate parents and the unexplained pain she feels. Her mother suffers from unidentified ailments. Padre José suffers from cowardice and the consequent guilt and misery he feels in having renounced his religion. Even the Chief of Police suffers with toothache. Mr. and Miss Lehr might be the only characters in the book who do not suffer, but they seem to have little emotion.

The lieutenant blames the Church for not relieving people's suffering, but the priest suggests the world will always have suffering. Good people try to help the suffering; bad people do not. Although the lieutenant believes the world will be better when the priest and the Church are gone, the priest counters by saying the Socialists will not always be led by good men, any more than the Church has been. The priest's contention that the Church tries to help the poor by reassuring them they can go to heaven more easily than a rich person is a meaningless platitude to the lieutenant. The priest contends that rather than give power to the poor, it is better to let a poor man "die in dirt and wake in heaven—so long as we don't push his face in the dirt." Because everyone cannot be saved from suffering, Greene argues in favor of hope. The lieutenant's solution to suffering would eliminate suffering for the poor by making the rich and the religious suffer instead.

Pride and Piety

According to the priest, "pride was what made the angels fall." Pride is one of the seven deadly sins, and the one the priest blames for his worst mistakes. When he stayed behind, he grew proud, self-important, and neglectful of the religious guidelines for his behavior; his drinking grew worse, and he conceived a child.

When the priest is finally in a safe region, he feels "the old life hardening round him ... a stony cast which held his head high." He became a priest for the respect and financial stability it offered. He could control the villagers because of their respect for him, and he let this power shape his interactions with others. When he dreams, he does not dream of Maria: he remembers parish council meetings when people bowed attentively. Now he feels unworthy. He thinks even the mestizo, who will ultimately betray him, is more worthy of God's forgiveness. The priest has lost the pride he had as an active priest and now has only his piety, which is revealed through his lack of pride and admirable human character rather than through his rigid adherence to rules and rituals.

Whereas the priest's pride comes more from his former position, the woman in jail is proud of her piety and thus comes across as smug as she looks down on sinners, including the priest. Greene associates piety with pride: being proud of one's piety can lead to the sin of pride. Later in the Lehrs' barn, the priest hears confession from another proud woman who acknowledges nothing but small sins. The priest challenges both women to see as God sees. The priest has lost his pride, and is a better servant of God because of it. He sympathizes with others now and may be able to help people the self-righteous women would dismiss. The priest is thus a parallel with Jesus, who often spent time with those marginalized by the religious leaders of his time.

Love

Love is a central theme of the book: love for one's children, love for one's fellow humans, and love for God. Captain Fellows thinks about his daughter, Coral: "You cannot control what you love—you watch it driving recklessly towards the broken bridge." The priest has similar thoughts about Brigitta, his daughter. Love for a child sometimes means watching the child struggle without being able to help. Brigitta tells the priest he is powerless, yet he continues to pray for her. He bargains with God, saying he will accept death if Brigitta is saved. Near the end of his life, he thinks of his feelings for Brigitta as "the love he should have felt for every soul in the world." He believes a priest should view every person as his child and love each individual in that way.

Greene makes powerful statements about God's love. God loves the world the way the priest loves Brigitta. According to Catholic teaching, God sent his only son to die so people might go to heaven. The priest often returns to this idea of God's love. He believes only God could be willing to die for the weak, deceitful human beings he sees; a human being would choose to die for something admirable. When the lieutenant asks him about God's love, the priest insists "God is love," but the love may be hard for humans to understand.

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