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Book Review: The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene
He is a drunkard, an adulterer, and a coward. He is not even sure why he is running: the only thing he is sure of is that he does not want to be shot, because he does not want to feel any pain. As the priest is chased from one part of the state to another, he constantly encounters poor villagers in need of his help. They need a priest to hear their confessions, to baptize their children, and administer their last rights. In each case, the priest reluctantly accepts this mantel though often for a fee ; all the while, however, he laments that there are no priests left to hear his own confession, absolve him, and, ultimately, administer his own last rights.
He is a priest who has been on the run for eight years in a state in Mexico where authorities have leveled all churches in an effort to root out Catholicism. It is the middle of the 20 th century, and the new Socialist government wants to stamp out superstition. Some priests have fled. Some have stayed and, under duress, have gotten married. Others, like this one, have gone into hiding.
The title is an allusion to the doxology often recited at the end of the Lord's Prayer : "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen. Greene's novel tells the story of a renegade Roman Catholic ' whisky priest ' a term coined by Greene living in the Mexican state of Tabasco in the s, a time when the Mexican government was attempting to suppress the Catholic Church. In , the novel received the Hawthornden Prize British literary award. In , it was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the hundred best English-language novels since The main character is an unnamed 'whisky priest', who combines a great power for self-destruction with pitiful cravenness, an almost painful penitence, and a desperate quest for dignity. The overall situation is this: Catholicism is outlawed in Mexico. However, while the other states of Mexico seem to follow a Don't-ask-don't-tell policy, the state of Tabasco enforces the ban rigorously.
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During a period of intense anti-Catholic persecution, a nameless priest wanders through Mexico as a fugitive, trying to evade authorities that have placed a peso bounty on his head. Stemming from pride, mortification and a sense of pastoral mission, the destitute priest hears confessions, anoints the sick and celebrates Mass in the communities he visits. But is father bringing salvation to the people who take him in or rather hastening their martyrdom? Authorities threaten with death those who harbour the fugitive priest, but promise a reward for those who assist in his capture. In some ways, The Power and the Glory is the quintessential Catholic novel. Sometimes his words, tone and habits give away that he is a learned man, but there is also something unspoken and implicit that makes it impossible for him to conceal his identity when he encounters Catholics.
Welcome sign in sign up. Perhaps it succeeds so resoundingly because there is something un-English about the Roman Catholicism which infuses, with its Manichaean darkness and tortured literalism, his most ambitious fiction. Yet the Roman Catholicism, in these three novels, has something faintly stuck-on about it—there is a dreamlike feeling of stretch, of contortion. This murderous teen-age gang leader with his bitter belief in hell and his habit of quoting choirboy Latin to himself, this mild-mannered colonial policeman pulled by a terrible pity into the sure damnation of suicide, and this blithely unfaithful housewife drawn by a happenstance baptism of which she is unaware into a sainthood that works posthumous miracles—these are moral grotesques, shaped in some other world; they refuse to attach to the world around them, the so sharply and expertly evoked milieus of Brighton, British West Africa, London. The first three paragraphs, where he gives you camera shots of the place, why it is astounding.