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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 alternate Paperback edition.
“Brilliant . . . a splendid achievement.” —The Atlantic Monthly
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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.
I initially had a tough time getting into this book--couldn't find anything to enjoy about it. I came to the conclusion about midway through The Power and the Glory that this wasn't a book to be enjoyed. It was a book to ponder deeper meanings of faith, politics, humility, commitment, sin, and consequences.
The protagonist, the priest, who is never named, is the only priest left in a certain state of Mexico where priests have been outlawed. He has spent the last eight years running from the police to evade capture. He is an imperfect archetype of a savior/martyr, haunted by his past failures and yet still struggling to remain committed to the priesthood. The priest is a conflicted individual, but his character grows; in the beginning of the story he tries to escape on a boat, but at the conclusion, he goes back to the state where priests have all been shot. Knowing he will be caught and killed, he returns to hear the confessions of a dying murderer.
There were many characters in this book representing "types," such as the
antagonist, the lieutenant who hated the clergy; and the mestizo, a type of Judas. The many children represented hope, as poignantly shown in the final few pages when the young boy lets the priest into the house to hide him from the police. I most identified with the priest and his internal struggles. Greene did an excellent job of showing the priest's outward struggle to avoid capture as well as his inner turmoil of sin and unrepentant spirit with reference to his illegitimate daughter. All the characters were real, deep, and memorable.
The takeaway from this book to help me be a better writer includes:
1. Make every character in the book count for a purpose and a deeper meaning than just "another person" to fill up the pages.
2. Include qualities even in the antagonist that make him a sympathetic character--the story will be more believable. No one is all good or all bad.
3. Be willing to tackle a controversial position--a protagonist that is severely flawed and that falls short of the standard can still be redeemed, changed, and become a hero.
4. Think of ways to use people or animals or locations to enhance symbolic meanings that grow the story. For instance, the priest's fight with the dog over the bone; the references to the dentist's equipment and working on teeth; the numerous beetles bashing themselves against walls--symbolizing pain, the fight for survival, the baseness of human depravity, and loss of dignity.
5. What you write will linger later in the mind of the reader--shine a light of hope; i.e., the priest who knocked on the door and was met by the young boy.
6. Not all books are to be necessarily enjoyed, but perhaps serve a greater purpose. Do you want to only entertain, or are you willing to probe the deeper meaning of life and leave the reader with significant ideas to grapple and ponder?
"The Power and the Glory" is set in Latin America, as is "Our Man in Havana". Both novels portray societies burdened by corruption and violence under elitist tyrannies, the former a tyranny of ideology and the latter a tyranny of wealth. A huge gap separated the writing of the two books, that is, Green's experience of World War 2 and his partial disillusionment with 'quietist' Catholicism. The protagonist of "The Power and the Glory" is a fugitive priest, a 'wanted man' under the regime of would-be purifiers and saviors of the peasantry. These ideologues could just as easily be fascist as communist; the closest reality to their extremism might be the Khmer Rouge of Pol Pot. The Priest -- a drinker, a "whiskey priest -- evades capture for years, until he is possibly the last priest still at large in a particularly vindictive anti-clerical state of southern Mexico. His only hope is to slip across the mountains into another state where anti-clericism isn't as extreme. He isn't entirely clear, however, whether his 'vocation' isn't martyrdom -- though he considers himself unworthy of such a beatification -- or else survival to be of service to parishioners. For a small, weak, drunkard of a man, the Priest shows incredible endurance and tenacity; in the end, he accepts betrayal as his fulfillment of his sacerdotal role. The obvious association of his inevitable sacrifice with that of Jesus Christ is the core message of the book. Unless the reader is willing to 'privilege' the Priest's commitment to Christian sanctity over the commitment to a religion of social engineering -- the ideology of the Lieutenant who pursues the Priest inexorably -- one wrong-headedness seems more or less as bad as another.
There's a comparison to be made -- one that seems almost inevitable -- between "The Power and the Glory" and Malcolm Lowry's novel "Under the Volcano". Both novels are set in Mexico in the 1930s, under one of the most brutal 'caudillo' regimes. The central characters are both novels are drunkards and self-haters. Both 'heroes' are like moths attracted to their own obliteration, and both novels depict the core corruption of Power that ineluctably results in 'fascism' broadly understood. But Lowry's novel is 'orders of magnitude' superior to Greene's -- more vivid, more viscerally disturbing, more honest. In Lowry's book, every character, however briefly present, is intensely encountered psychologically. Next to Lowry, Greene seems conventional and verbose. But "Under the Volcano" is one of the "ten best" novels of the 20th C, in another league from anything Greene wrote or could have written.