Summary and Analysis
Part 1: Chapter 3
The scene changes: Captain Fellows, the director of the Central American Banana Company, is greeted by his wife, Trix, as he returns home from a business trip upriver. She informs him that a policeman (the lieutenant) is talking with their daughter, Coral, who arranged for the officer to sleep overnight on the veranda. Now, the officer is waiting to talk with Fellows.
Finding out nothing from Captain Fellows about the hunted "last priest," the lieutenant leaves the Fellowses, and Coral tells her shocked father that the priest whom the lieutenant is hunting is hiding in the barn. Coral saved the priest's life by refusing to give the lieutenant permission to search the premises. Later in the chapter, Coral brings the priest some food and a beer, and she promises to be his protector, always. In the barn, the priest explains to Coral that his attempted escape to Vera Cruz occurred a month ago. He wants to show the girl a card trick, but Coral doesn't have any cards. The priest then leaves the plantation and stumbles into a village, where, although exhausted, he is compelled to hear confessions because the people there have not been visited by a priest in five years.
In this chapter, then, we see that Captain Fellows is, like the priest, also "abandoned," but, in his placidity and moral obtuseness, he is a happy man. In contrast, the priest is not a happy man; he is sure that the bishop in Mexico City doesn't even know, or care, that he is alive. Unlike the priest, Fellows is irresponsible, and, despite his family's tenuous situation, he sings in his boat and savors the taste of his sandwich, a taste which is heightened by the open air. His eyes are blue and unreflecting, and his memory is porous.
Fellows is a Pilate-figure; he backs away from any human involvement. He warns Coral not to aid the priest since he fears the authorities, at whose sufferance he is living in Mexico. He speaks as Pilate might have done when deciding Christ's fate: 'We've no business interfering in their politics." Fellows then pompously censures the priest's request for brandy.
With eyes like lakes at the top of a mountain, Captain Fellows is momentarily serene in his aloneness. He turns his problems away before they can affect him; to him, predatory alligators become mere trout in his song. He sings loudly to himself and, except for the sound of his motorboat, he is completely alone as he reminisces about his wartime experiences. He is unable to understand the subtleties of psychological fears, even though he was, apparently, a good soldier, especially when danger was clear-cut and visible. He constantly harkens back to a previous time of courage at zero-hour, humming songs vaguely remembered from the war-torn trenches of France. Fellows no longer has a guiding principle to his life, and he makes up his rules of conduct very much like he composes his disjointed lyrics — that is, to fit the occasion. He avoids specific problems: his wife's fear of death, fever, and the encroaching wilderness, and his daughter's beginning maturity, with its incipient sex drive.
Greene's attitude toward Fellows is clearly seen in the episode when the monkey jabbers at him as he sings; likewise, Fellows' command of a "banana company" helps to define his simian nature. Fellows operates on the basic level of animal survival; he lacks the complexity to be at one with the universe.
Mrs. Fellows is unmoved by her husband's fumbling efforts to reassure her; her life is a constant avoidance of words which suggest the family's dire condition. She is devoid of common sense and lives in constant terror and dissatisfaction.
Greene puns upon Mrs. Fellows' nickname, "Trix," just as he suggests that her husband is a symbol of false fellowship. When we first hear her name, we learn that she is playing a "trick" on her approaching mate, donning a mask of "frightened welcome.' Later, the priest wants to demonstrate a card trick for Coral, who has been deceitfully impressed into responsibility by her neurotic parents — but Coral doesn't have a deck of cards.
Many characters in this novel trick both themselves and others in their attempts to implement false systems of value. Mrs. Fellows' self-deceit is seen in her fevers and in her complaints about the heat, both of which are physical objectifications of her suppressed emotions — that is, her inability to face life.
Coral, although she is only about thirteen, runs the household, and, when we learn of her death later in the novel, we see that the Fellowses are unable to exchange even the platitudes which once held them together. Before the judging gaze of their daughter's eyes here, the parents become "a boy you couldn't trust and a ghost you could almost puff away."
Coral's independence is evidenced in her assumption of responsibility during her father's absence, and in her seeing that the lieutenant (although she doesn't care for him) secures a place to sleep on the veranda. Greene calls attention to Coral's bravery in letting the priest remain in the barn during the night while the officer spends the night on the veranda of the house. In a matter-of-fact way, Coral informs her astonished father that she has hidden the priest and that she did not trust her panicky mother enough to share the secret with her.
Coral's emotions have not kept pace with her organizational abilities. She kisses her father perfunctorily, and she regards her assistance to the priest as an opportunity to learn geography and history. She glibly suggests to the priest that he "renounce his faith" merely because she has just learned the phrase while studying European history. When she pertly announces that she is an atheist and that she lost her faith at ten, she speaks very much like a developing thirteen-year-old girl, one who is emotionally very juvenile. And yet there is something of the compulsive fanatic about Coral; in that sense, she parallels the cold pragmatism of the lieutenant.
Coral attaches little meaning to her words. She is a child lost in a spiritual, physical, and emotional wilderness, where other children eat wormy dirt from the river bank. She mouths such expressions as "fugitive from justice" and prattles on about the Reform Bill, which -extended voting rights in England, while she lives in a totalitarian environment.
Yet there is a basic, undeveloped kindness about Coral, for she does not shine the light in the priest's eyes as she enters the barn, as her father did. Greene cleverly uses Coral's innocence of theology to provide exposition. To Coral, the priest explains that he is not allowed to give himself up even if he wanted to. It is his duty not to be captured so that he can continue his ministry.
The lieutenant feels nothing but contempt for the Fellows family, hating them for the same reasons that he despises the clergy — their complacency and their love of ease. He knows restraint, however. He will not move an inch to greet the approaching Captain Fellows, and he properly hides his disgust by walking some distance away from Fellows before spitting.
Greene provides motivation for the lieutenant's actions. Captain Fellows complains that the police do not trust him, yet he previously told his wife that Coral should not have been left alone with the officer: "These fellows [an ironic word choice], you can't trust them." Greene explicitly compares the lieutenant to the priest: ". . .a little dark menacing question mark in the sun."
Animal imagery in the chapter is used to reinforce the hounded nature of the escaping priest. He evades the police only to become a servant to the faithful villagers, who have not seen a priest in five years. Allusions to animals also depict an inhuman society in which all emotions are reduced to a sub-human level.
Unpleasant images of animals (especially dogs) and vermin abound. A buzzard silhouetted against the sky taints Fellows' river excursion. Greene's description of Mrs. Fellows' "trick" of donning a mask of "frightened welcome" includes the information that the trick was not like that of suddenly sketching a dog, but, instead, of sketching a quick outline of a dog turned into a sausage. In addition, Coral would have "set the dogs" on the lieutenant had he tried to search the premises. And as Greene cites Coral's incredible awareness, he comments that in forty years, Coral's parents will be "as dead as last year's dog."
The priest also receives his share of animal imagery. Sucking his beer bottle in the barn, he resembles a cub being ministered to by his "mother," Coral. His breath is rancid, something like a rotting animal or like moldering debris left out in the sun. The priest's eating like an animal foreshadows his later fight with a starving dog over a scrap of meat left on a bone.
In the little village, the priest is compared to a bull in a ring, with the parishioners goading the tired clergyman. They want his services, but they fear the police. Even in the usable huts, rats move about at will, and one rat even "stares" at the priest as he tries to rest. With fine irony, as the priest weeps from exhaustion, Greene points out that the priest's host feels that the priest is crying over the sins of the old man's community; therefore, he urges his friends to confess lest they insult the priest, who is too exhausted already to hear great numbers of confessions.
The priest's use of the stable to hide from the questioning lieutenant and his use of the hut in the village suggest Christ's shelter at the time of his birth, and throughout The Power and the Glory, the priest makes several sporadic attempts at spiritual self-rejuvenation. Although he finds it difficult to help himself at this time, the priest's act of keeping the fire alive in the village represents his ability to keep the meager embers of the villagers' faith burning. When he blows on the fire, smoke fills the hut in this sacramental ceremony. Ironically, Padre Jose was the last priest to visit the people, five years previously, as Greene continues to further compare the two clergymen.
The priest is also matched with Mrs. Fellows by Greene's use of the word "train." The priest clutches his attaché case to him like a man awaiting a train that he must board, and Mrs. Fellows, dreaming of weddings, warns someone not to step on her train. For both people, a train is the means to an alluring but elusive future, one which neither will reach. When the trains do run in this novel, they head for ruined bridges and broken tracks, with Greene concluding that one cannot control the destiny of a loved one.
The characters in this chapter garner no symbolic illumination from the ever-present blanching sun. Their lives become maniacal attempts to ward off approaching death, and their efforts are continually thwarted by their prejudices. With death — emotionally and physically — all around him, Fellows can think only of a "dago secretary" and cite to Coral a tired distinction between social drinking and alcoholism.