The Power and the Glory
Part III: Chapters Two–Three
On the journey back, the mestizo continues to argue that he is not leading the priest into a trap, while the priest gently indicates that he is not going to be fooled by the mestizo's transparent lies. Nearing a cluster of huts where the gringo is supposed to be, the priest dismisses the mule driver, to the consternation of the mestizo. The priest is not angry with his treacherous companion. Instead, the priest laments the fact that the mestizo is burdening himself with such a grievous sin by involving himself in his murder. The priest filled with nervous impatience, and with the complaining mestizo in tow, hurries towards the hut. He has a drink of brandy to lend him courage. When they reach the hut, the gringo is, indeed, inside, and in bad shape. He is not the menacing outlaw figure of the wanted posters. Instead, the dying man looks like an ordinary tramp. When the priest draws near, the gringo twice tells him to "beat it." The priest persists, trying to get the gringo to hurry up and confess his sins before it is too late. The gringo, meanwhile, convinced that he is damned, is not interested in confessing his sins and only exhorts the priest to get out of the hut as soon as he can, before the authorities arrive. He offers the priest his gun, which the priest refuses. The priest continues to urge the gringo to repent and confess, but to no avail. Finally the gringo dies.
A voice comes from the doorway asking if he has finished. It is the lieutenant, who has now trapped the priest. The priest faces his enemy with resignation. He thanks the lieutenant for allowing him time to speak with the dying man. The lieutenant replies, "I am not a barbarian." Because it is raining too hard to set out for the capital city where the priest will be tried, the lieutenant pulls up a crate and lights a candle and the two men begin to talk inside the hut. The lieutenant vaguely recognizes the priest, who tells the lieutenant about their two previous meetings, at the village and in the police station. The lieutenant tells the priest that he despises the church because it exploits the poor and, to his surprise, the priest agrees with him. The priest says that there is much he and the lieutenant agree upon: both seem to believe that the world is a corrupt place, and that it's difficult to be truly happy unless you are some kind of saint. The lieutenant keeps looking to pick an argument, but, to his frustration, the priest always admits that, indeed, he is a flawed, weak person. He tells him why he decided to remain in the state after all the other priests had fled, attributing it not to courage but to vanity. He says that he was, unfortunately, prideful, and that he wanted to stay to show that he was a good man.
A man enters the hut to inform the lieutenant that the storm has passed, and the men prepare to embark on the trip. The priest says goodbye to the mestizo, refusing to bless the unrepentant man, but saying that he will pray for the mestizo's soul.
This chapter highlights significant differences between the priest and the lieutenant. Although the priest is allowed to visit with the dying man, the gringo refuses to repent and once again, as they have so many times before in this novel, the priest's efforts fail. At the same time, however, the lietenant succeeds in trapping his prey, the priest. But the situation raises an extremely significant point. That is, the priest fails based on one definition of failure, which is to fall short of attaining one's goal. But, in a deeper sense, the priest has succeeded, and succeeded brilliantly. Although he may not have been able to perform the duty he came to perform, he was focused on doing the right thing at all times. Although in their conversation, the priest and the lieutenant find that they in fact have much in common, one incredibly important difference is highlighted here: throughout the novel, the lieutenant single- mindedly pursues his goal, while the priest has difficulty even deciding what his goals should be. While the priest has been obsessed with his own unworthiness, he has, by and large, ended up making the right choices. In contrast, the lieutenant has been incredibly confident in his righteousness and has committed some rather horrific acts.
Here, by the end, it is clear that the priest has learned something that the lieutenant hasn't: one must act always with good intentions, even if one knows that those actions are doomed to failure. The fact that the world is imperfect and almost impossible to change is not a reason to give up. Rather, the world's inherent imperfection is a reason to adjust one's mindset, to turn one's attention to whether one is a good person, not whether one's actions are necessarily the most effective ones. This is what he means when he tells the lieutenant: "That's another difference between us. It's no good your working for your end unless you're a good man yourself. And there won't always be good men in your party."
Moreover, the lieutenant's words give credence to the priest's criticism. When he informs the priest that he will be taken back to the capital city to be tried, he says, "I am not a barbarian. You will be tried properly." Of course, everyone knows that there will not be a "proper" trial. The lieutenant's own sense of honor prompts him to tell the priest that he will not be treated unfairly, but the pause in his speech, indicated by an ellipse in the text, hints that he recognizes the fallacious nature of what he is saying. The lieutenant himself may be a good man, but the movement he belongs to is one that will not make good on his promises of fairness and justice.
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