Chapter One of the first part of The Power and the Glory begins with Mr. Tench, a British dentist who is hoping to make enough money some day to go home. He strikes up a conversation with an educated stranger who he assumes is a doctor; this is the man referred to in the novel as the priest or the whiskey priest, who has come to the capital city to meet a man named Lopez, hoping that Lopez will be able to get him out of the country. They have a drink together, and Tench tells him that Lopez was shot the week before by the chief of police, who wanted Lopez’s girlfriend. A boy comes to Tench’s office and says that he needs help because his mother is sick, and Tench tells the priest to go, still thinking he is a doctor. The priest objects, but Tench tells him that the boat he wants to leave the country on will not leave for hours or days. Following the boy into the jungle, the priest prays that he will be caught soon.
Chapter Two follows the police squad that is run by the lieutenant. The chief of police enters with news that the governor of the province wants them to capture the one remaining priest rumored to still be alive, though the lieutenant believes that the final priest has been caught and killed. The chief of police, referred to as ‘‘el jefe,’’ has a bad toothache and gives the lieutenant the responsibility of capturing the priest and James Calver, a notorious criminal from the United States who is hiding out in their district. The narrative follows the lieutenant to the small furnished room where he lives alone; he has heavy thoughts about the priests whom the government has executed. Nearby is the home of Padre Jose´, a priest who has avoided persecution by renouncing his vows and marrying a woman.
Chapter Three introduces Captain Fellows, who runs the Central American Banana Company plantation. The Captain’s wife, Trixy, is bedridden with a terrible headache, and his teenaged daughter Coral, who runs the plantation in his absence, takes him aside to talk to him. The police lieutenant wants to search the plantation, she says, looking for the fugitive priest. Fellows thinks that there is nothing to fear, but Coral explains that they are in fact harboring the priest, who is hidden in a barn. Fellows refuses the lieutenant’s request and sends him away, and Coral speaks to the priest to let him know it is safe to go. Traveling through the jungle again, the whiskey priest comes upon a small village, a collection of huts; he tells the inhabitants that he must leave, but they implore him to stay and hear the confession of a dying man. The priest knows that the police are nearby, but he allows the villagers to talk him into staying to hear confessions from all of the Catholics in the village.
Chapter Four of this section provides glimpses of the lives of various characters who have already been introduced. Tench, the dentist, has gotten a letter from the wife he left behind in England fifteen years earlier, and he intends to write back but instead allows himself to be distracted by a patient. Padre Jose´ walks through a cemetery and is approached by a family who wants him to say a prayer for their five-year-old daughter who has died, but he refuses to do so because prayers are against the law. Luis, whose mother earlier read to her children from a book about a martyred Mexican child, tells his mother that the story is silly and unbelievable: when he and his friends play, he says, they idolize revolutionary figures. Coral Fellows, on the other hand, is curious about Catholic doctrine after her encounter with the priest and asks her mother about it, even though her parents are Protestants. The police lieutenant is skeptical about the jefe’s order to kill civilians in order to bring the fugitive priest out of hiding. Walking across the square, the lieutenant runs into young Luis playing a violent game, and he indulges the boy’s fantasy by letting him examine his gun.
Chapter One of the second section is about the fugitive whiskey priest riding into the village where his parish once was. He encounters Maria, whom he does not recognize because he has not seen her in six years, although she is the mother of his child. She agrees to hide him at her home, but the other people of the village, thrilled to have a priest among them, implore him to hear their confessions and say Mass. The priest tries to talk with his young daughter, Brigida, but she is cynical and uninterested. In the morning, as he is saying Mass, soldiers invade the village. The whiskey priest is nearly found out, but Maria asks Brigida who her father is, and when she points to the whiskey priest they leave, first taking a young man from the village as a hostage. As the priest leaves the village, he comes across Brigida playing by the garbage dump, and she curses and says she’s ashamed that he is her father. He moves along to La Candelaria, a village where he hopes to hire a boat to take him across the river, but there is no boat. A poor ‘‘half-caste’’ person (that is, a person of mixed Mexican and Indian ethnicity) talks to him and gives him directions, and it dawns on him that this is the priest who has a bounty on his head. The half-caste catches up with him up the road and offers to be his guide, but the priest refuses to admit who he is. When they stop for the night, the half-caste is sick with a fever, and the priest tries to sneak away, but the other man catches up with him. The priest pulls away from the weakened man and insists that he tell the police that he never entered the village of Carmen, so that they will not take any hostages there.
Chapter Two opens in the capital city, where the book began. The priest approaches a stranger as a beggar. To save him from being found out by the police, Maria poured out the small cache of wine he needs to say Mass, and the priest needs it replaced. He strikes up a conversation with a stranger; after some questions, the stranger offers to take him to the Governor’s cousin, who can sell him some wine. They go to the man’s room, but the Governor’s cousin will only sell him the necessary grape wine if he also buys some brandy, and then the two other men insist that he drink it with them. They are joined by the chief of police, and the priest is forced to drink the brandy and all of his wine with them, leaving him drunk, penniless, and without the wine he came for. He has a little brandy in the bottle in his pocket when he enters a cantina and bumps across a soldier, ruining the man’s billiards shot. When the soldiers chase him, he runs to the home of Padre Jose´ for sanctuary, but Padre Jose´ refuses to help him. The whiskey priest is arrested for having forbidden alcohol and put in jail.
Chapter Three is about the priest’s night in jail. There are people there who blame the country’s troubles on the church and people who are devout Catholics. Hoping that his long journey will be over, the priest tells them who he is, but although he is locked up with criminals, none of them turns him in for the reward. In the morning, he is made to clean out the buckets that serve as toilets. He runs into the half-caste, who recognizes him, but he convinces the man that the only way to continue the kind treatment the police have been giving him is to keep the hunt for the priest alive. Later, he is brought before the police lieutenant, who does not know that this is the priest he has been hunting for. The lieutenant looks at the pathetic figure standing before him and feels mercy, giving the man some money from his pocket. The priest tells the lieutenant that he is a good man.
In Chapter Four, the whiskey priest returns to the Central American Banana Company plantation, hoping to find Coral Fellows, remembering her kindness to him. The plantation is empty, though, with no sign of people and all of the Fellows’s belongings removed. He is so hungry that he fights to take a bone out of the mouth of a starving, crippled dog. Later, he is approached by an Indian woman who shows him her child, who has been shot. To gain her confidence so that she will help him bandage the child, he tells her he is a priest, but it is too late, and the child dies. The only word she recognizes is ‘‘Americano,’’ so the priest assumes that her child was killed by the American gangster that the police are seeking. When she is not looking, he steals the little piece of sugar that she left on the dead child’s mouth as part of the burial ritual, and the sugar gives him the energy to ride on through the forest. After a time, he comes to a town where, to his surprise, the church still stands, and where the arrival of a priest is an occasion for rejoicing.
At the start of Chapter One of the third section, the priest has been a guest in the home of Miss Lehr and her brother, Mr. Lehr, for a while. The Lehrs are from Germany, and they are wealthy. They are not Catholics, but they are tolerant of the priest’s faith and enjoy having philosophical conversations with him. Their town is in a more relaxed state, where priests are not executed for celebrating Mass but are only forced to pay a small fine. When the local people come to ask him to baptize their children, the priest tells them that they must pay him for the service; every amount that he quotes is considered too high, but he remembers having been trained to insist that the peasants must pay if they are to value the privilege. In the back of his head, he calculates how much he is going to make in order to buy a new suit and move on to the safety of the big city, Las Casas, with a comfortable amount in his pocket. A local man, recognizing that the whiskey priest likes to drink, convinces him to buy some bottles of brandy for his upcoming trip. He has conducted the baptisms and the final mass and is ready to leave town a wealthy man when he is approached by the half-caste, who has come to tell him that the American gangster has been shot and wants the priest to come and hear his confession. The priest knows that it is a trap, to lure him back over the border to the state where Catholicism is severely punished, but the story that the half-caste told him about the gangster shielding himself with a boy is confirmed by the bullet-ridden Indian boy whom he buried. Driven by a sense of duty and disbelieving the good luck that almost let him escape, he relents and agrees to go.
In Chapter Two, the priest is certain that he has ridden into a trap, but he shows compassion for the half-caste who tried to trick him, giving him his brandy and his money before he enters the hut to which the man leads him. As soon as he enters, the American tells him that he must leave. He denies that he wanted to see a priest. When he reaches for his gun and finds it gone, it becomes certain that someone set him up as a trap; still, the priest stays with him and prays over him until he dies.
In Chapter Three, the police lieutenant enters the hut to arrest the priest, and the priest recounts the two times they have been face-to-face before: in his village, when Brigida identified him as her father, and at the jail, when the lieutenant gave him money. A sudden downpour forces them to take refuge in a hut, where they talk about their similarities and differences. The police bring the priest back to the capital city, and there he asks for just one favor, to be able to say his confession before his execution. The lieutenant agrees to bring the defamed priest, Padre Jose´.
He arrives at Padre Jose´’s home in Chapter Four, but suspecting that he is being tricked into performing a Catholic rite, Padre Jose´ refuses to go to the jail. He nearly succumbs, but his wife resolutely refuses to let him go, and Padre Jose´ is left listening to the mocking children who line up outside his fence and tauntingly shout his name. The lieutenant returns to the jail with a flask of brandy and tries to console the whiskey priest that there will be no pain when he is shot. The priest spends his last night saying his confession to himself.
There is only one chapter in Section IV. It begins with Captain and Mrs. Fellows in a hotel room, having abandoned the banana plantation; Mrs. Fellows assumes that they will be leaving the country, but Captain Fellows tells her that whether she goes or not, he is going to stay. Nothing is said about their daughter, who is not with them. Mr. Tench, the dentist, finally has time to work on the chief of police, the jefe. When they hear shots fired, the jefe explains that a man is being executed. Tench watches out the window and recognizes the priest, whom he took to be a doctor in the book’s first chapter. He remembers the bond that he made with the man during their conversation while the jefe complains about the pain of his untended tooth. The book ends with Luis, who is listening again to his mother read about the young martyr. The martyr’s execution is like the execution of the whiskey priest, except that the martyr, Juan, is noble in his death. For the first time, Luis asks questions about the story and shows signs that he believes it. Later, when he has gone to bed, a stranger arrives at their home, a man who identifies himself as a priest. Instead of turning him away or running to tell the police, Luis lets him in and motions for him to be quiet.
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.