“The Power and the Glory” is a 1940 novel by the British author Graham Greene. Originally published in the US under the title, “The Labyrinthine Ways,” the novel received the Hawthronden Prize in 1941 and was added to Time magazine’s list of The Hundred Best English-Language Novels since 1923. It was adapted into the film ‘The Fugitive’ in 1947 and has since been turned into plays and television programs, as well.
The story centers around a priest who is attempting to escape the Mexican state in which he lives which has outlawed religion. The priest evades capture for many years and helps many people that he meets along the way. Eventually, he makes it to a neighboring state but quickly finds that he cannot find peace there for he feels too guilty within himself.
He allows himself to be “tricked” into returning home to see to the confession of a dying outlaw, a man named the “Americano.” It is there that he is captured by the Lieutenant who has been looking for him for months and he has executed via firing squad shortly after.
Mr. Tench, an English dentist, heads to the riverside of the small Mexican town that he lives in to pick up a can of ether that he has ordered. At the riverside, Mr. Tench meets a strange man who says that he is waiting for a boat to Vera Cruz. Tench decides to speak to the man because he speaks English and also because he has a bottle of smuggled alcohol with him. He invites the man back to his house for a drink.
The two men talk and drink together for a while. Tench tells his guest his life story, including his family in England whom he has given up on writing letters to.
The strange man seems wary and odd; he occasionally makes comments that catch Tench off guard and make him wonder about the man. As they are drinking, a boy knocks on the door seeking help for his dying mother. The stranger reluctantly agrees to go with the little boy back to his house even though he knows that it will cause him to miss his boat. He seems as though he feels that he has no choice. The stranger leaves Trench, telling him that he will pray for him.
After he leaves, Trench realizes that he has left a book behind. The book is a religious text about a Christian martyr which, in this Mexican state is illegal. Tench panics and hides the book in his oven. He suddenly realizes that he forgot to pick up his ether and rushes down to the dock. Nearby, the stranger walks with the boy and realizes by hearing his boats whistle that he has missed it. He is angry at the boy and depressed that he was not able to leave.
In chapter two, the narrative shifts to the perspective of a lieutenant who is returning to the station with a squad of police, he starts doling out punishment to the men and asks where the chief is but gets no answer. The chief finally shows up and complains about a fugitive priest. He shows the lieutenant a picture of the priest, and after mentioning that the man looks very nondescript and hard to tell apart from anyone else, they discuss how to capture him. They say that he attempted to escape the state on a boat but missed it and evaded the group that was sent to purge the Catholic religion from the state. The chief also says that the priest can pass for an English speaker.
The lieutenant suggests that they take a hostage from every village and kill them if the villagers don’t confess where the priest is hiding and the chief likes the idea. The men also discuss an outlaw named “The Americano” who has been plaguing the city.
The narrative then changes to a mother reading her children an illegal Catholic story in their home. They children begin asking about the story and about the priest that came to see them that day. The mother sends them to bed and tells her husband that she is worried about the children asking questions about the “funny-smelling” priest whom they have hidden. The husband points out that if they hadn’t hidden the priest, he would be taken and shot and that she would later be reading about his martyrdom to the children. They discuss another priest named Padre Jose who has given up the clergy to marry and what a shameful thing this is.
Now the narrative shifts to Captain Fellows, an American living with his family in Mexico and running the “Central American Banana Company.” The Lieutenant arrives to speak with Fellows about the fugitive priest who is reportedly in the area. The Lieutenant speaks to Fellows daughter, Coral and then to Fellows himself. The men have a short, tense talk after which the lieutenant leaves. Coral confesses to her father that she refused to allow the Lieutenant to search the grounds because the priest is hiding out in the barn.
The fellow is shocked and goes out to the barn to tell the man that he needs to leave. The priest agrees to leave the next day but asks for some brandy which Fellows refuse to give as it is illegal.
That night, Fellows and his wife lay in bed awake, pondering the priest’s presence nervously as Coral goes out to the barn to bring him food. Coral listens to the priest’s story generously. She asks why the priest doesn’t turn himself in if he is so guilty about his escape, but he tells her that he sees it as his duty to remain free for as long as possible.
He cannot give up his faith, as it is his “power.” Coral listens non-judgmentally and then teaches him Morse Code so that he can signal her if he ever comes back. The priest leaves and makes his way to a village where he finds an empty hut to sleep in. He is exhausted, but before he can sleep, he is discovered and surrounded by villagers who only want for him to hear their confessions. He agrees to do this for them. Soon he begins to weep from exhaustion, and an old man goes outside and announces to the crowd that the priest is weeping for their sins.
Back in his house, Mr. Tench writes another letter to his wife, Sylvia. He has not made any contact with her for several years and finds it difficult to begin the letter. Someone knocks at the door, and he abandons the attempt.
Nearby, Padre Jose, the former priest, is walking in a graveyard when a group of people burying a little girl stop him and ask if he will say a prayer. He refuses, knowing that it is illegal and that he might be reported for it. Padre Jose is ashamed as he refuses their request and they beg for him to change his mind. The woman reads to her children about martyrs again, but the little boy refuses to listen and exclaims that he thinks it is all made up. The father tells the boy that he did not have much faith either but that he misses the church because it provided a sense of community.
Mrs. Fellows is teaching Coral when she becomes fatigued and puts the book down. Coral asks her mother if she believes in God and Mrs. Fellows asks who Coral has been talking to about such things. Coral goes to check on her father and realizes that she cannot find him. She begins to feel ill. The Lieutenant is told that the Governor has given him ultimate control in finding the priest however he deems as long as he catches him before the rainy season begins. The Lieutenant decides that he will go with his hostage idea, starting at the priest’s hometown of Concepcion.
The priest takes to a mule to continue fleeing. The police are rapidly closing in on him and forcing him to head toward his hometown although he had not intended to do this. He returns to the town and encounters a woman named Maria who is unhappy to see him. The rest of the villagers also give him the cold shoulder and the priest are made even more depressed by this. He learns about the police taking hostages from the villages that he has stayed in and understood the villager’s response.
Maria brings him to a hut where he can stay the night. He asks for a young girl named Brigida and Maria brings her in. The reader learns that Maria is a woman with whom the priest has had a short affair, and Brigida is their daughter. The priest does not say much to his daughter but feels an overwhelming feeling of responsibility toward her.
The next morning the priest agrees to say mass for the village and hears a report while doing so that the police are surrounding the village. He continues the mass, and by the time he is done, the village is surrounded. The Lieutenant arrives and calls everyone from their houses, and the priest obeys as he knows he has no other option. When the Lieutenant sees the priest, he asks him questions and asks to see his hands. As his hands are now rough from his homeless lifestyle and no longer the delicate hands of a priest, the Lieutenant passes him by.
Not realizing that the priest is right in front of him, the Lieutenant says that they will take a hostage if no one comes forward with information. The priest waits for someone to turn him in but no one does. The Lieutenant selects a hostage and the priest starts to step forward to go in the man’s place but the Lieutenant pushes him back, and the police leave the town. The priest bids an awkward goodbye to Maria. Brigida tells him that the other children in town mock her because of him, and he wishes to protect her but realizes that he cannot. He leaves town after telling her that he loves her.
The priest travels south to the town of La Candelaria. He speaks to the mestizo and asks how far it is to Carmen. He starts toward the town and soon hears someone calling for him. The mestizo catches up with him and says that he also wants to go to Carmen. The mestizo makes the priest uncomfortable as he seems untrustworthy and immediately starts trying to get the priest to admit his true identity.
The two men do not get along well. They stop at a hut to spend the night, and the mestizo says that he knows who the priest is. The priest believes that he is in the presence of a Judas and tries to stay awake to keep an eye on the man. He does sleep. He dreams and meditates, and in the morning he steps over the mestizo who is crying on the floor in a feverish condition.
The priest tries to leave, but the mestizo follows him and begs him not to leave him in this condition. As they continue to travel, the priest begins to feel guilty about the way he has treated the mestizo and lets him ride on the mule as he is ill. After a while, the mestizo directly asks whether he is a priest and the priest cannot lie to him and confirms this. When they get to Carmen, the priest sends the mule with the mestizo on top down one road and takes another, himself.
The mestizo angered that he will not be able to turn the priest in and get the reward money, shouts at him but his fever makes him too weak to do anything more. The priest decides not to go to Carmen and goes to the capitol city instead.
In the capitol, a beggar approaches the priest and asks for money. The priest answers that he only has very little and wishes to spend it on alcohol, speaking of getting wine for mass. The begger assumes that he is a drunk and sits down next to him to talk. The priest soon sees the mestizo walking into the town square and asks the begger to take him to somewhere to get alcohol.
The begger takes him to a hotel where they wait for the beggar’s alcohol contact to arrive. The contact turns out to be the Governor’s cousin who, after a tense conversation, agrees to sell the priest a bottle of wine. However, he is told by the begger that he should offer the man a drink out of respect and the priest soon watches helplessly as the begger and the cousin drink the entire bottle of wine. The priest soon leaves the men with only a bottle of brandy to show for it.
The priest gets caught in the rain and takes shelter inside of a cantina. He accidentally bumps into a man playing billiards and the man hears the telltale clink of the brandy bottle in his pocket. The priest runs, and the man and his friends chase him. The priest runs to the house of Padre Jose, hoping to find shelter but the Padre refuses him. Soon the police find him and, although they do not recognize him as the wanted priest, they take him to jail for the alcohol.
In prison, the priest is confused and bewildered by the criminals surrounding him. He gets into a conversation about religion and feels that he cannot hide the fact that he is a priest anymore. He admits that he is a bad priest. A whiskey priest. He admits that he fears death and that he has a bastard child. The prisoners tell him that they will not turn him in as they don’t want any of the state’s dirty money.
The priest feels a strange affection for the criminals. The next day he is sure that the police will identify him, but all they do is ask him to clean the waste buckets in the cells. In one cell, he is shocked to find the mestizo who is a guest of the police. The mestizo cleverly realizes that he will not get reward money for the priest if he is already in jail and decides to wait to turn him in.
The priest is brought before the Lieutenant who does not recognize him once again. He asks the priest where he is going, and the priest replies: “God knows.” The Lieutenant says that God does not know anything but, taking pity on the man who seems down on his luck, gives him five pesos and sends on his way. The priest tells the Lieutenant that he is a truly good man and leaves.
After leaving the city, the priest returns to the Fellow’s home but finds it empty and abandoned. He searches the house for food, but none is left. All he finds in the house is a dog with an old bone. Feeling guilty, he takes the bone from the dog and eats the leftover meat on it. The priest makes his way to an abandoned village where he finds a lone woman who seems to be guarding a hut. Inside the hut is a bloodied, wounded child. The woman tells him that the wounds are the result of the gringo outlaw “Americano.”
The priest prays over the child who soon dies. He and the woman bury the child in the church yard which the priest is surprised to find covered in Christian crosses. The woman prays for so long that a storm approaches and the priest entreat her to leave. She will not move, however, and the priest leaves without her. Soon, he feels guilty for leaving her there and worries that the Americano will find her. He goes back to the church to find that the woman has already left. The priest leaves the graveyard in an exhausted, desperate state, fading in and out of consciousness.
Soon a man with a gun approaches him and asks him to identify himself. The priest says who he is and passes out against a whitewashed building. The man with the guns, as it turns out, is not a police officer. He tells the priest that he has made it across the border and is now in a state where religion is not illegal and is, therefore, safe from the authorities.
The priest stays with two German-American Protestants named Lehr, for a few days while recovering his strength. He enjoys the life of leisure living with the Lehrs but feels guilty about his idleness compared to the prisoners he met as well as the mestizo. He also wants to see his daughter. There has not been a priest in the town for three years, and the villagers are happy to have him. He begins performing his duties and fears that he will go back to his old ways of drinking. Soon he prepares to ride of to Las Casas, a larger city. He says one last mass in the town, feeling that he has not escaped his sin by escaping danger and that he is ashamed of himself.
When he starts to leave town, he finds the mestizo waiting for him. The mestizo tells him that the Americano has been wounded in a shootout with the police and is asking for someone to hear his confession before he dies. The priest knows that this is a trap but feels duty-bound to return to the other side of the border to hear the confession. He doesn’t believe that he can find peace is Las Casas anyway, and therefore he is willing to be trapped by the police and the mestizo.
On the way back, the mestizo insists that he is not tricking the priest. The priest only feels bad that the man has been burdened with such a cause and tells him that he does not blame him. When they reach their destination, a small hut, the Americano is inside and badly wounded.
The man looks merely like a dying homeless person. The priest asks for his confession, but the Americano tells him to “beat it.” The outlaw is convinced that he is headed to hell anyway and he does not want the priest to leave before the authorities arrive. The priest continues to ask for the confession, but the Americano never relents before dying.
The Lieutenant arrives, asking from the doorway if he has finished. The priest realizes that he is trapped and is resigned to it. He thanks the Lieutenant for letting him see the dying man who answers that he is not a barbarian. As it is raining to hard to head back to the capital city, the Lieutenant sits down inside the hut, and the two men begin to talk. The Lieutenant tells the priest that he hates the church because he believes that it exploits the poor. The priest agrees with him, and they both agree that the world is corrupt and that it is difficult to be happy unless you are free from sin.
The Lieutenant asks why he stayed in the state after all of the other priests fled and the priest admits that he wanted to show that he was a good man. The storm passes, and the men prepare to leave. The priest says goodbye to the mestizo and says that he will pray for the man’s soul.
In the next chapter, Padre Jose is summoned to the police station. Initially, he is afraid that he is being arrested, but the Lieutenant informs him that he is needed to hear the confession of a priest who is being executed the following day. Padre Jose almost agrees, but his wife thinks that it is a trick and forbids him from going. The Lieutenant returns to the station and tells the priest the bad news. He offers the priest a bottle of brandy in a moment of compassion, hoping to ease his fears. The priest feels abandoned, and the Lieutenant is saddened as well.
On the floor of his cell, the priest drinks the brandy and tries to make a confession himself. He feels that he cannot repent but prays to God to protect his daughter. He reflects on the eight years he has spent as an outlaw and how little he has accomplished. He falls asleep and dreams that he is a cathedral waiting for the biggest dish to be served to him. When he wakes, the hope from the dream fades, and he feels regret for missing so many opportunities in life. He feels that he is going to meet God “empty-handed.”
The last section of the book reviews all of the characters and lets the reader know what became of them. Mrs. Fellows is sick in bed while her husband tends to her. Coral has died, and the couple is returning home. They talk about the priest that they met months before.
Mr. Tench tends to a patient in his dentistry and talks about the unexpected letter he received from his wife. She wrote him that she had found religion. He looks out the window and sees men preparing to execute the priest in the square. The firing squad shoots the man who yells something as he dies. Tench thinks he says something like “excuse.” Tench is disturbed by the image and vows to leave Mexico as soon as possible.
The mother reads another story to her children, the story of a martyr who dies with courage. The boy asks whether the priest was a martyr and his mother confirms that he was. The boy is saddened that there are no more priests left in the state. He sees the Lieutenant pass his window and spits at him.
That night the boy dreams that the priest is at a funeral being laid out. However, the priest’s body winks at him. He wakes up to a knock at the door. The knock is a priest who tells him that he is on the run from the police. The boy opens the door and lets him in.
The Priest – the protagonist of the story. The reader meets the priest for the first time when he is being hunted by the police in a Mexican state where Catholicism is illegal. The story follows his evasion of them and his eventual capture. The priest is an interesting character on many fronts. He is a man who is both sinful and pious. Who is running from the police but eventually consenting to be captured?
The priest struggles with his inner self and past sins throughout the novel. He has an illegitimate child as a result of a sexual relationship that is frowned upon in his line of work. However, he loves his daughter truly and cannot regret the affair that led to her creation.
The priest is at times a cowardly, sinful man but at others an incredibly brave one. He goes with the mestizo even though he knows he is walking into a trap to do his duty. He is not a conventional hero and is more human, as his weaknesses are shown openly. However, he performs great acts of heroism throughout the novel. In the end, he faces his death bravely and continues to inspire even after he is gone.
The Lieutenant – the main antagonist of the novel. The Lieutenant is desperate to go to any length to capture the fugitive priest. He hates the church to an almost obsessive depth because he feels that it tricks the poor and defenseless. The Lieutenant is a disciplined, principled man with a strong sense of what is right and wrong. Although he often looks over what is right in front of him, such as the two separate times that he lets the priest free because he does not recognize him.
He decides to round up innocent hostages to draw out the priest in a show of strength. This is incredibly violent and unjust, and the discrepancy between this and the Lieutenant’s obvious thirst for justice otherwise is jarring. However, despite this, at the end of the novel, the Lieutenant seems changed by his interaction with the priest. He brings the man a bottle of brandy to calm him in a surprising act of kindness and later realizes that he is saddened by the priest’s death, if only because he feels that he isn’t sure what he is to do with his life now.
The mestizo – the mestizo, is somewhat of a secondary antagonist throughout the novel. First happening upon the priest by accident, he decides that he will turn the man in for the reward money and this seems to become something of a personal mission for him as he goes so far as to follow the man into the next state and trick him into returning. Even though the priest repeatedly acts charitably toward him, the mestizo continues to pursue him to turn him over to the police. In some ways, the mestizo is a darker mirror image of the priest. The priest is an ultimately good man who feels that he is evil while the mestizo is somewhat of an evil man that thinks he is only doing good.
Graham Greene Biography
Henry Graham Greene was born October 2nd, 1904 in Berhamsted, Hertfordshire, England. The youngest of four siblings, Greene was the child of two prominent members of society. Greene developed a love of reading young while staying with his uncle at his historic home in Harston, England. However, Greene was troubled by bullying during his time at school and attempted suicide because of this no less than two times during his teenage years.
At the age of 16, he was sent away for psychoanalysis and returned to school afterward although he continued to suffer from bouts of depression for the rest of his life.
In 1922, Greene was briefly a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and attempted to be invited to the new Soviet Union although no such invitation ever came.
In 1925, his first published work, a book of poetry was released while he was a student at Oxford College. After graduating from Oxford with a history degree, Green worked as a private tutor for a short time and then began a career as a journalist. It was through his work that Greene met his wife, Vivien Dayrell-Browning. The two married after Greene converted to the Catholic faith in 1927.
Greene’s first novel, “The Man Within” was published in 1929 and received enough success that he was inspired to quit his journalism job and begin life as a full-time novelist. However, his next two books, “The Name of Action” (1930) and “Rumour at Nightfall” (1932) were not as well received. His first real bestseller was “Stamboul Train” which was also published in 1932 and later became the popular film “Orient Express” in 1934. Greene went back to journalism and movie reviews to supplement his income.
During the mid-1930’s, Greene was involved in a lawsuit for saying in a movie review of the 1937 movie “Wee Willie Winkie” That the star Shirley Temple had been put on the screen to appeal to !middle-aged men and clergymen!. Twentieth Century Fox, the film company, sued the magazine The Spectator for 3,500 pounds which resulted in the magazine going out of business. Greene escaped to Mexico after the trial ended and it was there that he wrote his best-known work “The Power and the Glory,” later published in 1940.
By the mid-1940’s, Greene was at odds with his wife and began having an affair. He later left his family, including his two children, in 1947 but was unable to divorce due to his Catholic faith. Greene moved away from England in the 1960’s after losing a large amount of money to a scam. He continued to write novels, short stories, and plays and in 1981, received the Jerusalem Prize for writers “who are concerned with individual freedom in society.”
In 1986, he was awarded Britain’s Order of Merit and moved to Vevey, Switzerland to live out the rest of his life. In 1991, he died of leukemia at the age of 86 and was buried in Corseaux cemetery.