The Power and the Glory
Part I: Chapter Four
Mr. Tench sits at his worktable, writing a letter to his wife Sylvia, with whom he has not had any contact for many years. He finds it hard to begin, his thoughts drift, and he thinks about the stranger who visited his house. Someone knocks at the door and he abandons the letter for the time being.
Padre Jose walking in a graveyard, meets a group of people who are burying a little girl. They ask him if he would say a prayer for her, but Padre Jose, aware of the danger he is in, refuses. Living under the constant surveillance of the local authorities, he knows that he cannot trust people to keep secrets, and performing such a ceremony among so many people would be dangerous indeed. The people begin to cry and plea for him to help them but, feeling disgraced and useless, Padre Jose continues to refuse their request.
A woman again reads her children the story of Juan, the young martyr. The boy, in a fit of anger, declares that he doesn't believe any of it. His mother angrily sends him out of the room. He tells his father what has transpired, and his father, rather than becoming angry at his son's unruliness, simply sighs. Not a man of much faith, the boy's father tells him that he laments the passing of the Church, since it provided a sense of community.
While teaching Coral Fellows a history lesson, Mrs. Fellows complains of fatigue and puts her book down. Coral takes the opportunity to ask her mother whether she believe in God. Her mother asks Coral to tell her with whom she has been talking to about such things. Coral then goes out to check on a banana shipment and, realizing her father has not taken care of business and is nowhere to be found, gets to work. Then, she begins to feel ill.
The lieutenant finds the jefe playing billiards and asks him if he has spoken with the governor. The jefe says that the governor has authorized the lieutenant to use any means necessary to apprehend the outlawed priest, on the condition that he catch him before the rainy season begins. The lieutenant tells the jefe that he will implement his idea to take hostages from the villages, and that he will start at the priest's hometown and parish, Concepcion. The lieutenant takes his leave of the jefe and heads towards the police station alone. Along the way, a boy throws a rock at him and, when asked what he is doing, the child answers that he was playing a game, pretending that the rock was a bomb and the lieutenant was a gringo (a foreigner). Pleased with this response, the lieutenant unthreateningly shows the young boy his gun, and walks away wishing that he could eliminate everything from the child's life that keeps him in ignorance. He is further charged with a sense of purpose to find and execute the priest.
This chapter, ranging through five different scenes, observes the townspeople responding to the presence (or absence) of priests in their lives. Mr. Tench is moved—although he doesn't know why—to write to his estranged wife after so many years of silence. Although Greene does not come right out and say it, one inference to be drawn is that Mr. Tench's brief encounter with the priest has somehow awakened in him a desire to set things right with his family. That he fails to write the letter here perhaps indicates that this desire has not yet taken root in him, that it is only the faint beginnings of what will undoubtedly be a long process of change his life.
The presence of Padre Jose, meanwhile, awakens hope in the funeral goers, but his refusal to get involved or take a risk makes the ceremony more traumatic than it would have been without him. It is hard to know quite what to make of this scene: on the one hand, Padre Jose does no one a service by being so cowardly, and his frightened, mousy character stands in direct opposition to the stories of brave martyrs (such as the one about the boy, Juan, a story to which the novel continually returns). At the same time, however, his chance encounter with the family at the funeral awakens in them emotions that are perhaps better and more human than the numbness they had been experiencing before his arrival.
The next two scenes involve parents instructing—or trying to instruct—children, and in both cases, the parents prove ineffectual or uninspiring. Mrs. Fellows becomes characteristically nervous when Coral questions her directly about God, and Mr. Fellows is nowhere to be found. Again, the brief, chance encounter with the priest has stirred important questions in someone. The mother reading to her children about the martyr Juan is clearly a much more admirable figure than Mrs. Fellows, and yet she also seems to be failing to engage her son. His father, not a very religious man, makes an important point about the church's role as a key component in the fabric of the community: whether you believe in what it preaches or not, he seems to argue, it was an organization that brought people together. Many people are isolated in this novel, even people who are living in a large town, in the midst of many others. Camaraderie, fellowship, a sense of social togetherness remain largely absent from this novel, and the father, here, seems to argue for the church as a possible source of community feeling.
The lieutenant's conversation with the young boy shows him, once again, to have good intentions, motivated by the desire to rid the world of corruption and deceit. The lieutenant yearns for purity, he wishes, "to begin the world again with them, in a desert." Greene's point, however, is that purity is not a condition of this world, simply not something available to flawed human beings. As is the case so often, and as Greene emphasizes in this chapter especially, the lieutenant's obsessive pursuit of his impossible end can lead him to resort to horrific and self-defeating means. Impurity is a part of life, Greene suggests, and to attempt to rid the world of it entirely is, therefore, to become a killer.
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