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The Power and the Glory

Graham Greene

Part III: Chapter One

Part II: Chapter Four

Part III: Chapters Two–Three

Summary

The priest sits on a veranda with Mr. Lehr and his sister, Miss Lehr, two German-American Protestants living in Mexico. Well-rested and comfortable, the priest has been staying with the Lehr's for a few days, recovering his strength. The Lehr's disapprove of Catholicism, believing it to be too luxurious and mired in "inessentials", such as rituals and ceremonies. Taking a bath in the river, the priest chastises himself for lapsing back into "idleness," a sense of guilt he feels acutely when he compares the ease of his life at the Lehr's house with the misery and hardship of the prisoners, the mestizo, and Brigida.

Later that day the priest walks into the town where he meets villagers who are overjoyed to have him with them. He thinks about how different this welcome is from the chilly receptions he has become used to receiving. There has not been a priest in town for three years, and the townspeople are eager to have someone to baptize their babies and hear their confessions. A woman bargains with the priest over what he will charge for the baptisms, agreeing on one peso fifty per child. He can feel the old ways and his former habits returning to him. After drinking a glass of brandy with a local barkeep the priest thinks that it is appalling that he can so easily go back to his old ways and he wonders whether God, who can forgive cowardice and passion, can also forgive the pious human's bad habits. But he continues drinking. In an act of spontaneous generosity, he tells someone to inform the people that he will charge only one peso for the baptisms. Later, listening to the confessions of the townspeople, the priest is struck at how run-of-the-mill their sins are, and feels unable to be particularly encouraging or interested in them. He makes a few attempts to provoke people out of their sense of complacency, but to no avail. The result is only further feelings of failure and unworthiness on his part.

The next day the priest prepares to ride off to a larger city, Las Casas. First he says mass, and feels particularly contemptible doing so. Even though he has escaped danger, he has not escaped the sin and the shame he carries with him. When he goes to where his mules are waiting, he finds a familiar figure waiting for him as well. It is the mestizo, who has followed him into the state to tell him that the gringo has been badly wounded in a shootout with police and is asking for someone to come to hear his confession before he dies. The gringo, of course, is on the other side of the border, and for the priest to go see him would be to put himself in harm's way once again. The priest knows he is walking into a trap, but, after some time debating with the mestizo, decides that he will return to absolve the dying man. It is his duty, he reasons, and besides, he does not believe that he can really find peace in Las Casas or anywhere in this state. He will put his neck in the mestizo's noose. On his way out of town, the priest donates the money he has received from the baptisms to the schoolteacher, telling the mestizo that he is well aware that, where he is going, he won't need money.

Analysis

Initially, we may feel surprised at how deep the priest's sense of shame is when, from the very beginning, the priest feels guilty for the complacency that sets in at the Lehr's house. Maybe we feel he is judging himself a little too harshly. After all, he has been through a trying ordeal, and has been resting for only a few short days. Plus, while life in this town is certainly a lot easier than it was in all the other towns he has been in, it is far from luxurious. Does he really need to feel guilty over taking a bath?

Although it is hard to know exactly how harshly Greene means for us to judge the people in this town, it seems that he is less interested in skewering people like the Lehr's than in showing just how much the priest has changed as a result of his months of hardship. Although he is still far from perfect—dipping into his old habits—this priest has become a truly extraordinary man, and the constant lamentations he makes over his own unworthiness are meant to show the mark of true humility. When the mestizo approaches, the choice before him is clear: physical salvation versus spiritual salvation. It takes him some time to decide to turn his mule around, but, in the end, the priest knows what he must do: "The oddest thing of all was that he felt quite cheerful: he had never really believed in this peace."

Throughout the chapter, the issue of money recurs again and again. The priest's changing attitude towards money becomes a barometer of sorts, indicating his changing attitude toward the world itself. He needs money to live, so when he initially sticks firm at one peso fifty, it is understandable, if not particularly admirable. When he suddenly decided to drop his rate to one peso, we can see that it is animated by a true sense of decency and concern for what is fair. But it is still a half-measure, since it indicates that the priest continues to make plans for making a home for himself in this world, charging money for performing what it is his duty to perform. It is only when he gives all the money away that he has given himself over entirely to his faith. After all, Jesus teaches in the New Testament that to be saved one must be prepared to give up all of one's earthly possessions and give them to the poor. Once again, abandonment is the key term. The priest, in abandoning the money, abandons the world, and, in turn, abandons himself to God. The issue of money and the Catholic Church is obviously an important one for this book and, in this chapter, Greene has his protagonist nearly run the gamut of priestly attitudes towards worldly wealth: from complacency, to qualified generosity, to saintliness. In doing so, he also runs the gamut from the real to the ideal, showing what Christians are called to do, while refraining from too harshly condemning what most of them do instead.

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