The Power and the Glory
Part III: Chapter Four
After dark, the lieutenant travels to Padre Jose's house to ask him to come to the police station. Padre Jose's first reaction is fear. He assumes that the police officer is there to arrest him for some perceived infraction. His wife wakes up and begins to argue for her husband's innocence. The lieutenant informs them that he is wanted at the station to hear the confession of the priest who is to be executed the next day. Although Padre Jose feels pity for the condemned priest, his wife forbids him to go, believing the lieutenant is trying to trick them. She argues that the priest is a drunkard, and not worth the trouble. Padre Jose makes a feeble attempt to argue with his wife about his duty, but she merely mocks him, and he tells the lieutenant that he cannot go with him. The lieutenant returns to the police station and informs the priest of the bad news. The priest feels utterly abandoned. Showing remarkable and perhaps unexpected compassion, the lieutenant gives the priest a bottle of brandy, hoping that it will help to ease his fears. Returning to his desk, the lieutenant feels depressed, as if his life has now lost its purpose.
The priest, taking swigs of brandy on the floor of his cell, tries to make a solitary confession. He finds he cannot repent, however, and prays to God to save his daughter. Once again, he chastises himself for his partiality to the girl, believing that he ought to feel that kind of intense love for every person on earth. He tries to pray for others, but his thoughts return to his daughter. He thinks himself an utter failure. Reflecting on the eight years he has spent running from the law, he cringes at the thought of how little he accomplished. He begins to think about the pain that is in store for him, and wonders if it isn't too late for him to renounce his priesthood like Padre Jose. He has a dream in which he finds himself eating at a large table in a cathedral, waiting for the best dish to be served and paying no heed to the ceremony that is taking place in front of him. When he awakes, it is morning and the feeling of hope that was instilled in him by his dream disappears when he sees the prison yard. Overwhelmed by a feeling of disappointment, he no longer worries about the state of his soul. He can only feel regret over his missed opportunities in life, and the fact that he is going to meet God "empty-handed."
The identities of the characters in the novel begin to shift in this chapter. The lawful lieutenant himself breaks the law twice in this chapter, trying to sneak Padre Jose into the jail cell to hear the priest's confession, and then delivering the condemned man a bottle of contraband brandy. Compassion for a human being and a former enemy has led him to violate the laws he has sworn to uphold. Padre Jose may have renounced the priesthood, but in this chapter it is the lieutenant's decision to betray his own order that is most significant. His actions testify to the effect the priest has had on him, and indicate that even this zealous lieutenant, who was formerly so full of hatred, is capable of change and spiritual regeneration. The hapless Padre Jose is caught between two incompatible identities in this chapter: the priest in him knows it is duty to go to the police station, but his much more forceful wife finally brings her husband to heel, scoffing at the notion that he is still a priest. Although he obviously doesn't admire Padre Jose's spinelessness, Greene depicts him as more of a broken, pathetic person than as an indifferent or cold-hearted one.
The priest's qualms over his impending execution are extremely significant, showing that Greene refuses to turn his protagonist into a simple hero. The priest displayed remarkable courage in returning to the gringo fully aware of what he was facing. Here, however, Greene again depicts the priest's wavering thoughts, his self-doubt and his fear, preferring a flawed, noble hero to an idealized model of perfect courage. The priest continues to berate himself for loving his daughter so much, a response that makes him a much more sympathetic and human character.
Although the priest's waking thoughts are self-critical and mired, as ever, in his past sinfulness, his dream seems to represent his breaking beyond the conventions of his old life. He awaits the final dish, which presumably symbolizes the reward he will receive in heaven. His ignoring the mass in front of him could suggest that he is moving beyond the church, beyond the ceremonies and rituals to a more direct communion with God. Upon seeing the prison yard again after he awakes, his fear returns and we see that he has not yet broken free of the cares and anxieties and imperfections of this world. But, he is no longer concerned with the state of his soul, however. All he can do is regret the mistakes and missed opportunities of his life, and wish he could go to God a more "successful" human being. This is, of course, true humility, and we sense that he is going to God with quite a lot. Here especially, with the interpolation of the dream, we are aware of the discrepancy between the priest's self-conception and Greene's attitude towards him. This gap has grown wider as the book has progressed and the priest has continued to berate himself while acting nobly and selflessly. He may not consider himself a hero, but he has made the most of the opportunities for heroism that Greene affords him.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!