Skip over navigation

The Power and the Glory

Graham Greene

Part I: Chapter Three

Part I: Chapter Two

Part I: Chapter Four

Summary

Captain Fellows is an American living in Mexico with Mrs. Fellows, his wife, and his young daughter, running the "Central American Banana Company." He returns home one day and his wife informs him that his daughter, Coral Fellows is speaking with a police officer about a priest who is at large in the area. The police officer is the lieutenant from Chapter Two, who is beginning his search for the priest. After a short, tense conversation with Captain Fellows, the lieutenant departs. Coral then informs her father that she refused to allow the lieutenant to search the premises, because the priest is hiding in the barn. Shocked, Captain Fellows asks his daughter to bring him to the priest's hiding place. He tells the priest that he is not welcome, and the priest, with characteristic deference to others' wishes, says he will depart. He asks for some brandy, but Captain Fellows refuses to break the law any further than he already has.

That night, Mr. and Mrs. Fellows lie together in bed, filled with anxiety and trying to ignore the sound of Coral's footsteps as she heads to the barn to bring food to the stranger. Curious, generous, and sensitive, Coral listens carefully to the priest's description of his troubles. With innocent logic, she asks the priest why, if he is so miserable as a fugitive, he doesn't just turn himself in. He explains that it is his duty to remain free as long as he can, and that he cannot renounce his faith because it is out of his "power." The girl listens without judging, then teaches the priest how to use the Morse Code so that he can signal her if he ever returns.

The priest then makes his way to a small village where he finds a small hut to sleep in for the night. Desperately tired and wanting only to sleep, he is beset by villagers asking him to hear their confessions. After some time, he grudgingly agrees to forgo sleep and perform his priestly duties for the people. He begins to weep out of frustration and sheer exhaustion, and an old man goes outside and announces to the villagers that the priest is waiting inside for them, weeping for their sins.

Analysis

As Americans living abroad, Captain and Mrs. Fellows remain isolated, estranged from the country in which they are residing and the people among whom they live. Their detached ineffectuality is perhaps best symbolized by Mrs. Fellows' illness, which leaves her bedridden, full of neurotic anxiety and the fear of death. Lacking any sense of meaning, both are living lives of denial. Captain Fellows refuses to think about anything negative, carefully maintaining a façade of cheerful ignorance. Needing reassurance, he asks his wife, "It's not such a bad life, Trixy? Is it now? Not a bad life?" His wife, on the other hand, sees nothing but death and disease crowding around her and, in response, she retreats further into her bed and behind her mosquito netting, in a futile attempt to hide and protect herself from the dangers that are a part of life. In a darkly comic line about Mrs. Fellows, Greene emphasizes just how warped her fears have made her: "the word 'life' was taboo: it reminded you of death." Along with Mr. Tench, Captain and Mrs. Fellows are not necessarily bad, but simply people living deadened existences.

Unlike her parents, Coral is full of compassion for others and enlivened with the desire to become involved, to engage with the world around her. A professed nonbeliever who lost her faith at the age of ten, Coral instinctively practices the Christian virtues of charity, tolerance and compassion, further emphasizing Greene's point that true Christianity exists in unexpected places, within people who may not even realize how holy they are. By contrast, for the priest, holiness and virtue are qualities that require effort, sacrifice and willpower. Coral Fellows becomes a touchstone of sorts for the priest, a figure to whom his thoughts return at intermittent points throughout the novel.

The encounter with the villagers shows that religion is still very much a part of the lives of the people. However, instead of being a joyous event, the priest's arrival in the town stirs anxiety and haste. The old man wants him to perform the necessary rituals as quickly as possible before the soldiers arrive. The priest, on the other hand, far from being happy to be able to perform his duties among willing and suppliant believers, is too overwhelmed by fatigue to be anything but irritated. Greene refuses to romanticize religious practices, showing how imperfect people are always involved in any human endeavor, even those considered to be the most sacred. This is not an argument for skepticism; on the contrary, Greene is trying to point out that, in order to believe, one must be able to see and accept things as they are. The shortsighted Mrs. Fellows cannot accept that death is a part of life and so does not really live; in the same way, those in this novel who do not see that the wicked is part of the sacred lack true wisdom. Complete purity exists only in myths and stories, as evidenced by the old man's telling his fellow villagers that the priest is inside weeping for their sins, when, in fact, he is crying only for himself.

More Help

Previous Next

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!

Follow Us