The Power and the Glory
Part II: Chapter Four
Having left the capital city, the priest returns to the Fellows' home to seek help from Coral Fellows, but he discovers that she and her parents have abandoned the house. He searches the house and the barn for food, but finds nothing. His situation grows more desperate: he has no food, money and no place to take shelter, and he knows that the rainy season is approaching. The only creature he finds on the Fellows' premises is an old, crippled dog. Like the house, the dog has been abandoned. He searches the house but finds little of interest: empty medicine bottles, old homework papers and textbooks. But when he returns to the kitchen, he finds the dog lying on the floor with a bone beneath its paws. Famished, he uses a piece of wire to strike at the dying dog while he pulls the bone away from her. Promising himself that he will save some of the meat to give back to the dog, he ends up eating the whole thing and tossing the eaten-clean bone back to her.
Leaving the Fellows' homestead, and feeling as if he is in a state of limbo, the priest finds shelter in a hut in a village. Strangely, the village has also been abandoned. Only one woman remains, and the priest spots her lurking outside his hut. When he steps outside, she disappears into the forest; but in a short while, after he goes back inside, she returns and the priest reasons that something valuable must be in the hut in which he is squatting. He begins to search the dark hut with his hands, and eventually discovers a child hidden underneath the maize. The child is wet with blood, riddled with bullet holes, and just moments from death. The woman approaches. An Indian, she speaks little Spanish, but she communicates to the priest that this violence is the work of the gringo, the outlaw "Americano." She understands when he tells her that he is a priest, and, after the child dies, she begs him to go with her to a church to bury her son. Doubtful that they can find one, the priest nevertheless agrees to accompany the woman.
The two travel for miles. On the second day, they come upon a wide plateau that is, to the priest's amazement, covered with Christian crosses. The woman brings her child to the tallest cross, touches the child to it, and lays her child at its foot. She begins to pray, and ignores the priest's entreaties to depart with him before an approaching storm reaches the plateau. Unable to convince her to depart, he leaves her there, and soon begins to chastise himself for abandoning her. He is worried that the gringo, who may still be in the area, may come upon her, and he therefore feels responsible for the woman's safety and the gringo's soul, reasoning that one shouldn't tempt a fellow human being to commit sin.
The priest is beginning to come unglued at this point: he is confused, drifting in and out of feelings of guilt, paranoia, and pervaded with a free-floating ache that at times seems to be coming from without, and at other times seems to be coming from within. He returns to the plateau, but the woman has left. Guiltily, he eats the sugar cube she has left by the mouth of her dead child so that if, by some miracle, he awakens from death he will have some sustenance to go on living. The priest leaves the plateau and thinking that futility and abandonment lay behind him, trudges forward. Hungry, exhausted, psychologically wasted, he can feel the life ebbing from him. After some time, a man with a gun approaches him. When asked to identify himself, the priest, no longer concerned about getting captured by the police, gives his real name. He stumbles away and falls against a whitewashed building on the edge of the forest. But the man with the gun turns out not to be a police officer at all; instead, he seems happy when he learns that the man he is speaking with is a priest, and he tells him that the whitewashed building is the town church. The priest has crossed the border into a state where religion is not outlawed; he is safe from the authorities.
In this chapter, the priest is in limbo, a word that is as appropriate a description of his spiritual condition as it is of his physical surroundings. The chapter itself is more about the evocation of a certain brooding, silent, forsaken atmosphere than anything else. Just as limbo is a state halfway between heaven and hell, the world the priest stumbles into is a world of half-things: the mongrel and the child are half-dead, the hut he finds only half shelters him from the rain, and it is raining about half of the time, he can only half communicate with the woman. Fighting with a dog over a scrap of meat, he feels only half-human, and by the time he leaves the woman, he is only half-alive. More importantly, perhaps, it is also like limbo in that it is a world of abandonment: the abandoned house and the abandoned village are two very obvious and noteworthy examples. The old dog has been abandoned by the family, the priest finds the child abandoned (albeit temporarily) in the maize, the woman has been abandoned by her family and her fellow villagers and he, in turn, abandons her on the plateau. When he returns, he finds only the child's corpse abandoned at the foot of the cross. Moreover, he abandons the dog and the dead child to the force of hunger when he steals the meat off the bone and the sugar cube, respectively. It is also clear that he has abandoned all hope of escape or survival when he freely confesses to the man with the rifle that he is a priest. All of these details in their consistency and subtly make for a chapter remarkable for its creation of a sense of fading life and desolation.
If the priest were in limbo, then crossing the border into a safe haven would seem to indicate a movement out of limbo and into paradise. We will have to wait until the next chapter to find out if this is the case, but we already know enough about Greene to suspect that he is unlikely to let his protagonist find any kind of true paradise on earth.
The episode with the murdered boy is significant because it allows us to have a glimpse of the real suffering and sorrow the gringo has caused. The lieutenant romanticizes the gringo in the early part of the novel. The gunslinger, the cowboy, the outlaw—he is a type we are all familiar with, the subject of many movies and novels. Greene here shows us the bloody and hateful consequences of such a person's lawlessness. Once again, Greene provokes the reader to think beyond conventional types and to confront the ugly reality beneath. But Greene himself walks something of a fine line. As we have discussed earlier in relation to the pious woman, he seems to argue that sins such as pride and complacency are in some ways worse than sins of passion. And while this still may be Greene's point, he has to be careful not to minimize or trivialize the real suffering inflicted by egregious, violent, extreme actions. Showing the bloody infant and the suffering mother helps to qualify his point somewhat, that negatively motivated passions may indeed be just as reprehensible—if not more so—than apathy and complacency.
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!