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The Power and the Glory (Penguin Classics) Paperback – February 25, 2003
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How does good spoil, and how can bad be redeemed? In his penetrating novel The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene explores corruption and atonement through a priest and the people he encounters. In the 1930s one Mexican state has outlawed the Church, naming it a source of greed and debauchery. The priests have been rounded up and shot by firing squad--save one, the whisky priest. On the run, and in a blur of alcohol and fear, this outlaw meets a dentist, a banana farmer, and a village woman he knew six years earlier. For a while, he is accompanied by a toothless man--whom he refers to as his Judas and does his best to ditch. Always, an adamant lieutenant is only a few hours behind, determined to liberate his country from the evils of the church.
On the verge of reaching a safer region, the whisky priest is repeatedly held back by his vocation, even though he no longer feels fit to perform his rites: "When he was gone it would be as if God in all this space between the sea and the mountains ceased to exist. Wasn't it his duty to stay, even if they despised him, even if they were murdered for his sake? even if they were corrupted by his example?"
As his sins and dangers increase, the broken priest comes to confront the nature of piety and love. Still, when he is granted a reprieve, he feels himself sliding into the old arrogance, slipping it on like the black gloves he used to wear. Greene has drawn this man--and all he encounters--vividly and viscerally. He may have said The Power and the Glory was "written to a thesis," but this brilliant theological thriller has far more mysteries--and troubling ideals--than certainties. --Joannie Kervran Stangeland --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Brilliant . . . a splendid achievement.” —The Atlantic Monthly
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It is not an easy read nor, at first glance, an uplifting one, although one can seem moments of redemption and revelation laid out in the book. Everything is set in a Mexican state that I believe is meant to represent Tabasco during the 1920's, shortly after the Institutional Revolutionary Party's ascension to power. At that time, and in that state, it seems that the Mexican government was carrying out a pitiless purge of Roman Catholic priests, and although there were a number of believers, they observed the Catholic rites underground. It appears that the government effected the purge using philosophical observations akin to Lenin's observation that religion is the opiate of the masses.
Greene had spent time in Mexico prior to writing the novel, and wrote a memoir that expressed his loathing for the country and all that he saw. And certainly, both the foreigners and the natives living in the novel's setting are deeply unhappy. The former suffer from a profound sense of dislocation, and often dream of going home. The latter are oppressed by unbelievably cruel hardships, including political repression and hunger.
Vargas Llosa explained that the novel presented a conflict between the upright Lieutenant, who is totally committed to his secular beliefs and hopes to extirpate the church in order to do away with obscurantism in the hopes of bringing paradise to this world. His bite noire is a priest, who is sinful, guilty of fornicating and drinking and yet, much more human than the rigid Lieutenant.
However, I did not see it that way. The Lieutenant is admirable in his own way, particularly when compared to his corrupt and complacent superiors. However, Greene paints the Lieutenant in broad brush strokes and spends relatively little time with him. Greene spends far more time with the corrupted "whiskey-priest," and the real conflict is between the whisky-priest's attempts to discern the nature of his own calling, which he pursues with increasing diligence, which is remarkable considering horrific suffering that he passes through, including near starvation. Still, the whiskey priest cannot decide if he was closer to God when he was a younger priest, relatively well to do and with a parish, or if he is closer now, even if he spends the night in jail and even if he robs rotten meat from a dog because he is hungry.
For me, Greene uses the whiskey-priest to explore various theological conundrums. As the novel progresses, we see that the whiskey-priest is becoming weary of life, which is understandable because he has been on the run for eight years. And yet, when he returns to the very state where the police are chasing him, ostensibly to hear the last confession of a murderer, Greene makes clear that in part, the whiskey priest has begun to despair of this life. Thus, Greene asks us to ask if the priest's decision to return is a Christ-like gesture, in which he willingly sacrifices his own life for the betterment of another? Or it is a selfish gesture - in which his desire to die is in a way reflective of a selfish desire to cease living and thus cease suffering?
On that note, a remarkable aspect of the novel is the tremendous hatred that nearly every character feels towards this world. And yet, that contributes to the novel's power, because Christianity indeed deals and indeed to a degree condones a contempt for this life.
Regardless of the feelings that he may have harbored about Mexico, Greene sets out the priest's struggles with great subtlety and precision, showing him advancing towards a nearly beatific state at times while alternatively feeling repulsed and disgusted by the people around him. At each point, we are encouraged to ask if the priest is moving closer to God, or indeed farther away.
of the Mexican government. The version I bought cost $37 and it was a paperback! Would recommend you look into a
less expensive copy plus the paragraphs an pagination made it difficult reading. Don't know if that was the original format or
Greene's development of the priest's character and plot makes for good literature. Not for everyone though.
I couldn't put the book down. It grabbed me and pulled my through the entire story in a couple of days. I'm interested in academic theology, but this book put an entire different spin on the notions of "redemption" and "salvation." I'm still digesting it, but would recommend it to those interested in spirituality.
Be prepared: it's not conventional.