Graham Greene does not give names to several of the key characters in this novel. Readers never even find out the name of the book’s protagonist, who is identified only as ‘‘the priest’’ or ‘‘the whiskey priest.’’ To retain his anonymity, Greene must resort to such obvious omission as having him tell a man he runs into in the jungle his name, but only relating it in the book as ‘‘Father So-and-so.’’ Obviously, the priest has spoken his name in the story, but that information is withheld from the reader by the narrator.
Other key characters who do not have names are the lieutenant, the half-caste (who is also referred to sometimes by the alternate description ‘‘the mestizo’’), and the chief of police (the jefe). There are also named characters, such as Maria, Brigida, Luis, and Mr. Trent.
Identifying characters by descriptions rather than names serves to keep readers’ minds on their social functions. Greene uses these characters as examples of how this society is run and how people interact with each other. Even when the setting is not in a social situation, there are characters who are defined by the roles that other people project upon them: for instance, the Indian woman whom the priest runs into in the jungle has no other name because all that he knows about her is that she is an Indian woman. Because readers are not given a name for the priest, they constantly think of him as a priest, regardless of how much they come to understand how he feels. Likewise, the lieutenant shows himself to have several dimensions, but his military rank is always foremost in the reader’s mind. Readers are not, however, constantly reminded that Mr. Tench is a dentist, that Maria is an ex-lover, or that Brigida is a daughter; Greene grants these characters internal personalities that are independent of their social functions.
By the time Graham Greene wrote The Power and the Glory, the anti-Catholic sentiment in Mexico had begun to soften, even in the hardline southern provinces where the book is set. Still, people who lived through the situation Greene described recognize his novel as an accurate portrayal of what it felt like to be present at that time and place.
For many novelists, character development is such an important focus that the setting is hardly noticeable, mentioned only in passing; it could be replaced with another setting without substantially altering the impact of the book. Other novels are set in a specific, recognizable time and place, like the Boston of George V. Higgins or Chicago in Saul Bellows’s stories, but the location is not the author’s main concern. Some writers, such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Sherwood Anderson, choose to make up entirely imaginary settings for their fiction. The Power and the Glory, however, is so inexorably bound to its setting that it could not work as a story if it took place anywhere else. Although the whiskey priest and the other characters are products of the author’s imagination, the situation Greene puts them in is a matter of verifiable, historical fact. Readers can confirm the truth of Greene’s descriptions or point to evidence that refutes it.
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Novels for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 31, Graham Greene, Published by Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010.