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The Power and the Glory

Graham Greene

Important Quotations Explained

Part IV

Key Facts

That was another mystery: it sometimes seemed to him that venial sins—impatience, an unimportant lie, pride, a neglected opportunity—cut off from grace more completely than the worst sins of all. Then, in his innocence, he had felt no love for anyone: now in his corruption he had learnt…

This quotation, from Chapter Three of Part II, is striking because of the way it sets up familiar contrasts only to rethink and rework them. 'Venial' sins, what we normally think of as very minor wrongs, are here suggested to be the very worst kinds of failing. Greene suggests that venial sins can pass unnoticed in people's day-to-day lives, and can add up—if unrepented for and unacknowledged—causing a kind of slow deadening of one's spirit. Greene then indicates that even though venial sins are worse, the people who commit them are actually more "innocent", presumably because they are unaware of how far they have really drifted from goodness. Interestingly it is actually in his "corruption" that the priest learns how to feel love. Greene's attitudes towards matters such as sin, innocence and grace are extremely important and also extremely complicated.

Heat stood in the room like an enemy. But he believed against the evidence of his senses in the cold empty ether spaces. A radio was playing somewhere: music from Mexico City, or perhaps even from London or New York filtered into this obscure neglected state. It seemed to him like a weakness: this was his own land, and he would have walled it in with steel if he could, until he had eradicated from it everything which reminded him of how it had once appeared to a miserable child. He wanted to destroy everything: to be alone without any memories at all.

This is a compelling portrait of the lieutenant from the second chapter of Part I, emphasizing his belief in emptiness. Interestingly, the narrator says that he believed "against the evidence of his senses", implying that the lieutenant, on some level, has to have faith, even if it is faith in purposelessness. Belief in nothing, like any belief, requires one to accept something that cannot necessarily be proven. Furthermore, it is significant that his enemies in this scene are warmth and music—things that sustain life and lend it beauty. As seen by the end of the quotation, where the key words are "steel", "eradicated," and "destroy," the lieutenant's wishes and beliefs, although springing from noble sentiments, are filled with violence and the denial of life.

One mustn't have human affections—or rather one must love every soul as if it were one's own child. The passion to protect must extend itself over a world—but he felt it tethered and aching like a hobbling animal to the tree trunk. He turned his mule south.

This quote, from Chapter One of Part II, very nicely illustrates the fine line that exists between the desire for spiritual perfection and the possibility that the attainment of that perfection is inhuman. The priest feels guilt about how much love he has for his daughter, wishing that he had the selflessness to love all members of the human race without partiality. Even if he doesn't recognize it, however, we realize that the priest's love for his daughter—while perhaps not the all-embracing love he seeks—is one of the most admirable, praiseworthy and human responses he has to almost anything in the novel. This is an implicit question throughout the novel and one that Greene himself perhaps doesn't have the answer to: to what extent are humans obliged to break free from ordinary, habitual responses and seek something loftier, and when is it better to accept one's fallible human nature as it is? The quote is also interesting for the "hobbling animal" metaphor it employs. The metaphor evinces despair over the local, limited nature of his love by comparing it to a creature that cannot move at all, but the priest then "turned his mule south." That is, he moves much more slowly across the landscape than he imagines he should, but he is still moving. Greene subtly shows us the slight, but important, discrepancy between the priest's self-conception and what he really does.

He dreamed that the priest whom they had shot that morning was back in the house dressed in the clothes his father had lent him and laid out stiffly for burial. The boy sat beside the bed and his mother read out of a very long book all about how the priest had acted in front of the bishop the part of Julius Caesar: there was a fish basket at her feet, and the fish were bleeding, wrapped in her handkerchief. He was very bored and very tired and somebody was hammering nails into a coffin in the passage. Suddenly the dead priest winked at him—an unmistakable flicker of the eyelid, just like that.

In the novel's final chapter, Greene depicts the reactions of various people to the priest's execution. Fittingly, he ends with the young boy. Extremely significant here is the way Greene weaves imagery of Jesus Christ into the boy's dream. "Julius Caesar" of course, besides being another victim of betrayal and murder, has the same initials "J.C." Notice also the mention of baskets of fish, feet and bleeding, references to both the wedding feast of Cana, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and the crucifixion. The "resurrection" here is much less dramatic, but still significant: the priest flickers his eyelids, implying that he has returned to life after his execution. In fact, the priest has attained a kind of resurrection primarily because his image and his example remain in the boy's mind after the priest dies.

The lieutenant said in a tone of fury: "Well, you're going to be a martyr—you've got that satisfaction." "Oh, no. Martyrs are not like me. They don't think all the time—if I had drunk more brandy I shouldn't be so afraid."

In this interchange between the lieutenant and the priest in Chapter Three of Part III, the priest's retort voices an idea that has been implicit throughout the novel—that thinking and true holiness are somehow opposed to each other. As a kind of snare, thought is something we have seen in many places in this book. While most stories of saints and martyrs are stories of action, defiance, heroism, and conviction, the priest's story is one of introspection, self-doubt, self-abuse, anxiety, and uncertainty. Considered from a different perspective, however, the priest's thoughts do not prevent him from doing good—in fact, in many ways, it is his tendency toward second- thoughts that lead him to make the right decisions. Although his relentless introspection may keep him from being a purely spontaneous agent of goodness, thought ultimately helps him to overcome many of his selfish instincts, including the instinct for self-preservation. His self-sacrificing actions combined with his constant soul-searching ultimately make him seem a martyr to everyone but himself.

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