The Power and the Glory
The Power and the Glory (1940) is a novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

 by British author Graham Greene
Graham Greene
Henry Graham Greene, OM, CH was an English author, playwright and literary critic. His works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world...

. The title is an allusion
An allusion is a figure of speech that makes a reference to, or representation of, people, places, events, literary work, myths, or works of art, either directly or by implication. M. H...

 to the doxology
A doxology is a short hymn of praises to God in various Christian worship services, often added to the end of canticles, psalms, and hymns...

 often added to the end of the Lord's Prayer
Lord's Prayer
The Lord's Prayer is a central prayer in Christianity. In the New Testament of the Christian Bible, it appears in two forms: in the Gospel of Matthew as part of the discourse on ostentation in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the Gospel of Luke, which records Jesus being approached by "one of his...

: "For thine is the kingdom, (and) the power, and the glory, now and forever (or forever and ever), amen." This novel has also been published in the US under the name The Labyrinthine Ways. In 2005, the novel was chosen by TIME
Time is a part of the measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change such as the motions of objects....

magazine as one of the one hundred best English-language novels from 1923 to present.

The novel tells the story of a Roman Catholic priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

 in the state of Tabasco
Tabasco officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Tabasco is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 17 municipalities and its capital city is Villahermosa....

 in Mexico during the 1930s, a time when the Mexican government, still effectively controlled by Plutarco Elías Calles
Plutarco Elías Calles
Plutarco Elías Calles was a Mexican general and politician. He was president of Mexico from 1924 to 1928, but he continued to be the de facto ruler from 1928–1935, a period known as the maximato...

, strove to suppress the Catholic Church. Revolutionary leaders during the early 20th century tried to destroy the feudalism
Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.Although derived from the...

 that had governed social relations in Mexico for four centuries, and the resulting concentration of land and power among the elites and the church. Calles was just one in a line of anti-clerical leaders who sought to undo this feudal system.

In Catholic eyes, Mexico formed part of what Pope Pius XI
Pope Pius XI
Pope Pius XI , born Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, was Pope from 6 February 1922, and sovereign of Vatican City from its creation as an independent state on 11 February 1929 until his death on 10 February 1939...

 called the Terrible Triangle, along with the other socialist and communist states of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 and Spain. The persecution was especially severe in the province of Tabasco
Tabasco officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Tabasco is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 17 municipalities and its capital city is Villahermosa....

, where the anti-clerical
Anti-clericalism is a historical movement that opposes religious institutional power and influence, real or alleged, in all aspects of public and political life, and the involvement of religion in the everyday life of the citizen...

 governor Tomás Garrido Canabal
Tomás Garrido Canabal
Tomás Garrido Canabal , was a Mexican politician and revolutionary. Garrido Canabal served as dictator and governor of the state of Tabasco from 1920 to 1924 and again from 1931 to 1934, and was particularly noted for his anti-Catholic persecution...

 had founded and actively encouraged "fascist" paramilitary groups (called the “Red-Shirts”) and succeeded in closing all the churches in the state; forcing the priests to marry and give up their soutanes.

Throughout the book, Greene refers to the border as being to the north, as well as the sea as being to the south, when in fact the Bay of Campeche is situated north of Tabasco and its border with Chiapas to the south. However, most of the descriptions of travel (usually arduous) and places (usually desolate) are accurate and based on Greene's 1938 journey to Tabasco, which he chronicled in The Lawless Roads
The Lawless Roads
The Lawless Roads is a travel account by Graham Greene, based on his 1938 trip to Mexico, to see the effects of the government's campaign of forced anti-Catholic secularisation and how the inhabitants had reacted to the brutal anticlerical purges of President Plutarco Elías Calles.A Catholic and...

. Many years later, Greene said that it was while in Tabasco that he first started to become a Christian, where the fidelity of the peasants "assumed such proportions that I couldn't help being profoundly moved."


In 1938, Greene was forced to flee his native England in advance of a lawsuit that 20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation — also known as 20th Century Fox, or simply 20th or Fox — is one of the six major American film studios...

 brought against him for a review he wrote of the Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple Black , born Shirley Jane Temple, is an American film and television actress, singer, dancer, autobiographer, and former U.S. Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia...

 movie Wee Willie Winkie
Wee Willie Winkie (film)
Wee Willie Winkie is a 1937 American adventure film directed by John Ford. The screenplay by Julien Josephson and Ernest Pascal was based on a story by Rudyard Kipling. The film stars Shirley Temple, Victor McLaglen, and Cesar Romero in a story about the British presence in nineteenth century...

in Night and Day magazine. Wrote Greene, " the way she measures a man with agile studio eyes, with dimpled depravity. Adult emotions of love and grief glissade across the mask of childhood, a childhood that is only skin-deep. It is clever, but it cannot last. Her admirers—middle-aged men and clergymen—respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire."

Greene's friend, cinema pioneer Alberto Cavalcanti
Alberto Cavalcanti
Alberto de Almeida Cavalcanti was a Brazilian-born film director and producer.-Early life:Cavalcanti was born in Rio de Janeiro, the son of a prominent mathematician. He was a precociously intelligent child, and by the age of 15 was studying law at university. Following an argument with a...

, wrote:
Graham was warned that the Americans producing the film had introduced a writ of libel against him, meaning that not only would the backers of Night and Day pay a large fine, but he, Graham himself, faced a prison sentence. The only solution was to find a country without extradition. They chose Mexico and our poor Graham went away very quickly indeed. Very likely Shirley Temple never learned that it was partly thanks to her that, during his exile, Graham Greene wrote one of his best books.


The main character in the story is a nameless "whisky priest", who combines a great power for self-destruction with pitiful cravenness, an almost painful penitence and a desperate quest for dignity. By the end, though, the priest "acquires a real holiness." The other main character is a lieutenant of the police who is given the task of hunting down this priest. This Lieutenant—also nameless but thought to be based upon Tomás Garrido Canabal
Tomás Garrido Canabal
Tomás Garrido Canabal , was a Mexican politician and revolutionary. Garrido Canabal served as dictator and governor of the state of Tabasco from 1920 to 1924 and again from 1931 to 1934, and was particularly noted for his anti-Catholic persecution...

— is a committed socialist who despises everything that the church stands for.

The story starts with the arrival of the priest in a country town in an area where Catholicism is outlawed, and then follows him on his trip through Mexico, where he is trying to minister to the people as well as he can
. He is also haunted by his personal demons, especially by the fact that he had fathered a child in his parish some years before. He meets the child, but is unable to feel repentant about what happened. Rather, he feels a deep love for the evil-looking and awkward little girl and decides to do everything in his power to save her from damnation
Damnation is the concept of everlasting divine punishment and/or disgrace, especially the punishment for sin as threatened by God . A damned being "in damnation" is said to be either in Hell, or living in a state wherein they are divorced from Heaven and/or in a state of disgrace from God's favor...

. The priest's opposite player among the clericals is Padre José, a priest who has been forced to renounce his faith and marry a woman (by order of the government) and lives as a state pensioner.

During his journey the priest also encounters a mestizo
Mestizo is a term traditionally used in Latin America, Philippines and Spain for people of mixed European and Native American heritage or descent...

 who later reveals himself to be a Judas
Judas Iscariot
Judas Iscariot was, according to the New Testament, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. He is best known for his betrayal of Jesus to the hands of the chief priests for 30 pieces of silver.-Etymology:...

 figure. The lieutenant, on the other hand, is morally irreproachable, yet he is cold and inhumane. While he is supposedly "living for the people", he puts into practice a diabolic plan of taking hostages from villages and shooting them, if it proves that the priest has sojourned in a village but is not denounced. The lieutenant has also had bad experiences with the church in his youth, and as a result there is a personal element in his search for the whisky priest. The lieutenant thinks that all members of the clergy are fundamentally evil, and believes that the church is corrupt, and does nothing but provide delusion
Opium of the People
"Religion is the opium of the people" is one of the most frequently paraphrased statements of Karl Marx. It was translated from the German original, "Die Religion .....

 to the people.

In his flight from the lieutenant and his posse, the priest escapes into a neighbouring province, only to re-connect with the mestizo, who persuades the priest to return in order to hear the confession of a dying man. Though the priest suspects that it is a trap, he feels compelled to fulfil his priestly duty.
Although he finds the dying man, it is a trap and the lieutenant captures the priest. The lieutenant admits he has nothing against the priest as a man, but he must be shot “as a danger”. On the eve of the execution, the lieutenant shows mercy and attempts to enlist Padre José to hear the condemned man's confession. The lieutenant is convinced that he has "cleared the province of priests". In the final scene, however, another priest arrives in the town - which, among other possible readings, suggests that the Catholic Church cannot be destroyed.


The Priest: The unnamed main character in the novel, the priest is on the run from the authorities, who will kill him if they catch him. A "whisky priest," and not the finest example of his profession, he is an alcoholic who has also fathered a child. In his younger days he was smug and self-satisfied. Now as a fugitive, he feels guilt for his mistakes and sins. Nevertheless, he continues to perform his priestly functions (often in great difficulty and sometimes reluctance) and it is his determination to attend to the spiritual needs of a dying man that leads to his eventual capture and death.

The Lieutenant: The lieutenant is the chief adversary of the priest. He hates the church because he thinks it is corrupt, and he pursues the priest ruthlessly. He takes hostages from the villages and kills them when he feels it is necessary. However, the lieutenant is also idealistic, and believes in radical social reform that would end poverty and provide education for everyone. He is capable of acts of personal kindness, as when he gives the priest (whom he believes to be a destitute drunkard) money on leaving the jail.

The Mestizo: The mestizo is the half-Indian peasant who insists on guiding the priest to Carmen. The priest knows that the mestizo will at some point hand him over to the authorities. The mestizo encounters the priest again in the prison, but prefers to wait for the right moment to betray him, which he does when leading him to the dying American.

Maria: Maria is the mother of Brigitta, the priest’s daughter. She keeps brandy for the priest and helps him evade the police when they come to her village looking for him. Although she shows support when the "whisky priest" reappears, the narrative leaves the character of Maria incomplete... with implications of resentment.

Brigida: The young daughter of Maria and the priest.

Padre José: A priest who obeyed the government’s instructions and took a wife. He is dominated by her and has lost both the respect of the town and his self-respect. He refuses to do any priestly duties, even when people beg him to, because he fears the authorities.

Mr. Tench: Mr. Tench is a dissatisfied English dentist who longs to return from Mexico to England. He befriends the priest, whom he meets at the quayside, and later witnesses his death.

Coral Fellows: The thirteen-year-old daughter of Captain and Mrs. Fellows. She befriends the priest and offers refuge to him for the future. Her fate at the end of the novel is not revealed. Her parents have promised each other not to talk about her again.

Captain Fellows: A happy Englishman who works on a banana plantation who is displeased to find that the priest has taken refuge in his barn.

Mrs. Fellows: The wife of Captain Fellows. She is neurotic and fearful and hates life in Mexico.

The Woman: The unnamed woman reads to her children the story of Juan and his martyrdom. The Catholic faith is important to her and she wants her children to take an interest in it.

Luis: This young boy shows little interest in the story his mother reads to him, but his interest is awakened by the news of the priest's death.

The Gringo: An American fugitive called James Calver, he is wanted for murder and bank robbery.

The Chief of Police: Mostly concerned with playing billiards and assuaging his own toothache, he doesn't share the Lieutenant's idealism and willfully breaks the law.

The Lehrs: Mr. Lehr, a widower, and his sister Miss Lehr are an elderly couple who allow the priest to stay with them after he crosses the state border. They are Lutherans, and have little sympathy for Catholicism, although they treat the priest with kindness.

Juan: Juan is a character in the "story within a story" that the Mother reads to her family. Juan is a young Mexican man who enters the priesthood, lives a pious life and faces with great courage his death by firing squad.


In 1947, the novel was freely adapted into a film, The Fugitive
The Fugitive (1947 film)
The Fugitive is a 1947 drama film starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford, based on the novel The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. It was shot on location in Mexico by Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa.-Plot:...

, directed by John Ford
John Ford
John Ford was an American film director. He was famous for both his westerns such as Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and adaptations of such classic 20th-century American novels as The Grapes of Wrath...

 and starring Henry Fonda
Henry Fonda
Henry Jaynes Fonda was an American film and stage actor.Fonda made his mark early as a Broadway actor. He also appeared in 1938 in plays performed in White Plains, New York, with Joan Tompkins...

 as the priest. In 1959, the story was faithfully adapted for British television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

, with James Donald
James Donald
James Donald was a Scottish actor. Tall and thin, he usually specialised in playing authority figures.Donald was born in Aberdeen, and made his first professional stage appearance sometime in the late-1930s, having been educated at Rossall School on Lancashire's Fylde coast...

 as the priest. A highly acclaimed 1961 U.S. television version, released theatrically overseas, featured Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier
Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM was an English actor, director, and producer. He was one of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century. He married three times, to fellow actors Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright...

 in the role.

It was adapted into a play by Denis Cannan
Denis Cannan
Denis Cannan was a British dramatist, playwright and script writer. Born Denis Pullein-Thompson, the son of Captain Harold J. Pullein-Thompson and novelist Joanna Cannan, he changed his name by deed poll in 1964. His younger sisters were Josephine, Diana and Christine Pullein-Thompson.Born in...

, and in 1956, performed in the Phoenix Theatre in London. Two years later (1958) it was performed in the Phoenix Theatre in the USA.


The Power and the Glory was somewhat controversial and, in 1953, Cardinal Bernard Griffin
Bernard Griffin
Bernard William Griffin was an English Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Westminster from 1943 until his death, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1946 by Pope Pius XII.-Biography:...

 of Westminster, summoned Greene and read him a pastoral letter condemning the novel. According to Greene,

The Archbishop of Westminster read me a letter from the Holy Office condemning my novel because it was "paradoxical" and "dealt with extraordinary circumstances." The price of liberty, even within a Church, is eternal vigilance, but I wonder whether any of the totalitarian states ... would have treated me as gently when I refused to revise the book on the casuistical ground that the copyright was in the hands of my publishers. There was no public condemnation, and the affair was allowed to drop into that peaceful oblivion which the Church wisely reserves for unimportant issues.

Evelyn Waugh
Evelyn Waugh
Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh , known as Evelyn Waugh, was an English writer of novels, travel books and biographies. He was also a prolific journalist and reviewer...

 in Greene's defence wrote, "It was as fatuous as unjust — a vile misreading of a noble book." In 1965, Greene met Pope Paul VI
Pope Paul VI
Paul VI , born Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini , reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church from 21 June 1963 until his death on 6 August 1978. Succeeding Pope John XXIII, who had convened the Second Vatican Council, he decided to continue it...

, who assured him, "Mr. Greene, some aspects of your books are certain to offend some Catholics, but you should pay no attention to that." In 1953, ten years before he became Paul VI, Mgr.
Monsignor, pl. monsignori, is the form of address for those members of the clergy of the Catholic Church holding certain ecclesiastical honorific titles. Monsignor is the apocopic form of the Italian monsignore, from the French mon seigneur, meaning "my lord"...

 Montini had defended The Power and the Glory against other churchmen who wanted to censor it. Many novelists consider the novel to be Greene's masterpiece, as John Updike
John Updike
John Hoyer Updike was an American novelist, poet, short story writer, art critic, and literary critic....

 claimed in his introduction to the 1990 reprint of the novel. Upon its publication, William Golding
William Golding
Sir William Gerald Golding was a British novelist, poet, playwright and Nobel Prize for Literature laureate, best known for his novel Lord of the Flies...

claimed Greene had "captured the conscience of the twentieth century man like no other."

External references

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