Saturday, October 17, 2015
My thoughts on The Power and The Glory
I picked this particular novel because of the centennial challenge.
Graham Greene is a fairly known name in literature because of otherwise his mysteries, slightly influenced by his day job and otherwise philosophic works of art, just as the one of read just now.
The premise of the Power and The Glory is very simple.
Religion is outlawed, priests are persecuted and the common people are desperate for old times. All this is played out in Mexico.
We are introduced to our protagonist by way of Mr Tench, a dentist who is stranded in Mexico as much as anyone else, and who reminisces about his longing to get away one day when he meets a stranger at the docks.
Conversation picks up, a little held back because both of them doesn't want to admit that they want to get out of that desolate country, but one is held back by money, the other because of the need of others.
As a ship is getting ready to sail out, Mr Tench takes his new friend back home with him and as they continue their troubled talk, a horn sounds. As they hear it, both know that the boat is leaving. Almost immediately a boy asks for the stranger Mr Tench took home. Coming with grave news, the boy stands there rather stoïcally waiting for the stranger to come with him.
When he leaves, Mr Tench takes up the novel the stranger forgot to take with him and realises that inside the cover of a woman and man in a tight embrace are words in Latin.
He hides the book, knowing he just met a priest. Maybe the last one he'll ever meet.
Then we follow in the footsteps of the priest, throughout the novel only known as the whisky priest.
He's the last priest known off in the immediate area and he's constantly fearful of his life.
In every community he arrives people want to confess, not even letting him sleep because they might die damned before they see another one like him.
The priest himself struggles too. Others see salvation in him, but he is unable to have mercy on himself. Having fallen from his faith in as many ways, he struggles with the belief that he himself will not get into the afterlife he promises to everyone else. With a bounty on his head, and a guilt large enough to feed a small country, he pushes on through the country side. He's seeking redemption by facing the danger instead of escaping. Every village longs for him and equally detests him because he is a danger they can't afford.
That danger is personified in a Lieutenant of the local police force, Captain Fellows.
This guy has a vehement dislike of religion and everything belonging to it. He sees himself as a mystic as he's certain of the existence of a dying, cooling world, of human being evolving from animals for no purpose. He has all the answers, he knew, and all those fixing their eyes upon the sky for salvation are wrong.
As he hunts down the one priest roaming his country, he's happy. He compares it to being in war-time France, in the ravaged landscape of trenches.
Both the priest and the lieutenant are victim to one belief, the first because he can't see that people need to save themselves first before someone else can give them absolution. The other because he's so stubborn in his belief that all religion is evil that he doesn't see the hope and beauty it can have for those who haven't got much else. It's like taking a lollypop from a kid, because it's bad for their teeth. It's still going to cry, because it doesn't understand the concept of it being for its own good.
It isn't an easy novel to get through. As you travel through Mexico, you travel through the minds of these two very different people and might find they are both right and wrong. It isn't easy to pick a side in this novel and that's not what Greene intended. He only wanted to show what could happen if idealistic and extreme behaviour isn't controlled. There isn't a right way, there should only be the freedom of exploring.