Summary and Analysis
Part 2: Chapter 2
The events of this section take place a few months after the priest's attempt to flee to Vera Cruz. In this capital city of a Mexican province, the priest, dressed in a drill uniform, meets a beggar who promises to secure wine for him. And, sure enough, before long, the priest, and the cousin of the Governor, the jefe, and a beggar are in a hotel room, all drinking. They drink all of the grape wine (needed by the priest if he is to say Mass), and finally, the priest is left with only a largely depleted bottle of brandy (not suitable for the Consecration — when the wine is changed into the blood of Christ).
Afterward, the priest is pursued by Red Shirts when his bottle of brandy chinks against the wall of the cantina. which he has entered to escape the rain. Followed a spirited chase, during which Padre Jose refuses to hide him, the priest is thrown into a dank, dark prison cell, charged with the crime of possessing contraband liquor. In addition, we know that the mestizo, who says that he can identify the priest, is being held by the police for that very purpose.
Clearly, many themes and motifs enunciated earlier in the novel reappear in this chapter, as well as in the crucial chapter that follows, which in many ways is the center of The Power and the Glory. Here, in Chapter 2, there are the same empty ceremonies that we will discover in Chapter 3, as well as similar animal imagery, recurrences of fraudulent social amenities, and a play upon the word "trust," all of which help to unify the chapters, and in addition, there is much Christocentric symbolism. This particular chapter hinges upon a bizarre perversion of a Communion service — wine shared in a bleak bedroom, while the wrong people consume the wine meant for Mass — and finally, the priest is left with only brandy, totally unusable for the celebration of Mass. Meanwhile, outside, a violent storm intensifies the priest's inner terror and shame.
The chapter begins with the mechanical promenading of the young men and women. of the village, all silent, the sexes moving in separate directions. Greene explicitly characterizes the sterile practice: "It was like a religious ceremony which had lost all meaning, but at which they still wore their best clothes." Only the old women who impulsively join in the march vivify the empty, meaningless procession, and Greene suggests that only they (perhaps) retain some of the occasional good humor which was common in the days before the Red Shirts. Outside the ring of marchers, the old grandmothers rock idly back and forth in their chairs, surrounded by relics of a better past, the family photographs. Greene muses upon the irony of such activities forming the nucleus of a Mexican state's capital city.
The taxicab drivers mirror the vacuity of their country as they wait for fares that never materialize, and the hotel where the abortive Eucharistic feast is to take place boasts the names of only three guests for its twenty rooms. Sheltered from a fierce storm, both meteorological and political, the principal characters repeat hollow theological expressions which have lost the core of their meaning. Later, when a Red Shirt misses his billiard shot, he automatically responds with an outcry to the Virgin Mary. Significantly, this exclamation (a sort of perverted prayer, as it were) is accidentally caused by the priest, who bumps the Red Shirt's arm as he is about to shoot.
Each character here plays a social role opposite to his real nature, and Greene suggests that the resultant mask is indigenous to a state which has lost all contact with theological truth. The drill suit worn by the priest is delightfully ambiguous; this is Greene's comment upon the authoritarian nature of the Church, as well as his suggestions that the ideals of the priest and the lieutenant are in many ways interchangeable.
The priest and the other men in the hotel room observe all the artificial "rules" of social drinking etiquette. At the instigation of the beggar, the priest offers his fiercely prized wine to the influential cousin of the Governor — because in a topsy-turvy state, the least worthy people become the most powerful people. From the start, then, the bottle of wine that was destined to be used for Mass, is doomed, and the custodians of the nation consume it just as they have consumed the Church.
The Governor's cousin quickly moves from his uneasy role of pseudo-official to his real nature as a sloppy extrovert and drinking companion. Still, however, he officiously warns the priest that Vera Cruz ("true cross") brandy is contraband, and then he dismisses unheard the priest's protest that he is only interested in buying wine. Playing his authoritarian role to the full, he cautions the priest that he could have him arrested, and the priest is forced into an abject and feeble defense of his desire to buy some wine.
The ill-fitting clothes of the Governor's cousin correlate with his awkward handling of power, and as soon as the priest agrees to pay extra for wine, the man abruptly drops his authoritative mask and wheedles several libations from the fugitive. With his pasty face and tight suit, the Governor's cousin, except for his bulging weapon, resembles a servant or waiter more than he does a man of political consequence.
The priest is victimized by hollow social forms and the awkward changes in personality that accompany them. He is tense and subservient to the Governor's cousin and is afraid to deny his request that toasts be made with the precious wine. And later, note that the priest's capture is brought about by bored Red Shirts who are trying more to have fun at the priest's expense than to enforce prohibition. After they catch him, they treat him with familiar jocularity. They resemble children playing a game of hide-and-seek; in fact, the Red Shirt whose billiard shot the priest spoils is barely past adolescence.
This juvenile sociability continues as the priest is marched to jail, with the Red Shirts telling jokes and mildly joshing the priest about his effort to escape. Even the jailer pats him reassuringly as he slams the cell door behind him.
Physical deterioration and mechanical ineptitude accompany this political breakdown in social norms, with Greene suggesting that the mechanism of the Marxist state is indeed creaky. The dynamo in this scene, in the only hotel in town, operates in fits and starts, and it churns throughout the wine drinking, suggesting the frustrated energies of the state. Note that the beggar and the priest enter the hotel, and the "light" almost goes out; then it flickers on again and mirrors the priest's physical and spiritual state — his slight hope that he might say Mass again, if he can obtain some wine.
Other small details in the chapter add to the total picture of the ineffectual nation. With its single iron bed, the room foreshadows the priest's later entrance into the abandoned Fellows' home. Gaps in the mosquito netting allow beetles to enter the room, and the stairs leading to the first floor are covered with the hard-shelled black insects. The shoes of the Governor's cousin squeak on the tiles, and he draws the forbidden liquor from a large tear in the mattress. Above the hotel, the sharp, nail-like rain provides no respite from the heat, for the city is as suffocating after the cloudburst as it was before.
Not surprisingly, trust is utterly lacking among the principals in this chapter. They constantly lie to each other, and their machinations form a microcosm of the nation. The beggar earns his commission by telling the priest that the Governor's cousin will sell liquor only to someone whom he "trusts" — that is, the beggar. He worked for the Governor's cousin once and apparently knows the location of the skeletons in his closet. The beggar explains that the cousin gets his liquor free from customs; yet shortly afterward, the official tells the priest that he comes by the liquor legally and must pay for it. He cites a humanitarian motive behind his wine collecting and states that he charges only what he himself paid for it. The Governor's cousin is shocked to learn that the priest gave fifteen pesos to the beggar for the brandy.
The jefe is judged a bland person, but clearly he cannot be trusted at billiards, and note that he insists upon calling the illegal wine 'beer" throughout the episode. One is reminded of his refusal to assume responsibility in the shooting of hostages. Also, he knowingly refers to the "dregs" at the bottom of the 'beer" bottle, and later, he jokingly pretends that he is drinking sidral.
At the jail, the lies continue. The Red Shirt and the policeman argue about whether or not the lieutenant should be disturbed since the fine is only five pesos. The Red Shirt wonders, however, who will get the money, and in one of the infrequent humorous moments in the novel, the priest announces that no one will, since he has only twenty-five centavos.
In a world of such hypocrisy and deceit, any symbolic Eucharistic service must be hollow, and in this chapter the theology of the "celebrants" is as sterile as that of the lieutenant. The only true celebrant, the fleeing priest, never gets the opportunity to consume the wine (intended for Mass), for Greene hinges this important episode on a fine point of Church law: wine used at a Mass must consist of no more than fifteen percent alcohol; brandy, of course, is high in alcoholic content. Also, Mass wine must be made from grapes, and thus, the priest quickly rejects the quince product. He needs either a French or a California wine. Greene describes the priest's need for the ceremonial wine in terms of an alcoholic's craving when the priest tells the mestizo that he would give almost all that he has to slake his thirst. In doing God's work, the priest draws upon very personal knowledge of alcoholic addiction.
The events surrounding the consumption of the wine, then, take on sacramental importance, with four men attending the celebration the priest, the Governor's cousin, the beggar, and later, the Chief of Police. The priest's pretense of wanting to take the remainder of the wine back to his mother hints of his wish to reestablish ties with the Mother Church of Rome. In this context, the beggar's avowal that he too has a mother points to the residual, even though unconscious, theological instincts in the Mexican people.
The wine is explicitly connected to the Eucharist when the jefe relates his earliest memory, his First Communion. But so little attention is paid to his comment that a joke is made concerning the impossibility of two parents standing "around" the corpulent officer. The jefe's remark, however, does tie things together, for he announces that it was his duty to see that the priest who administered the sacrament to him is shot to death. Also, the priest's constantly recurring memory throughout the novel is that of a First Communion celebration. The bond between the dead priest and the living priest, then, is strong, and at the end of The Power and the Glory, a new priest arrives to take up the duties of the protagonist, who has been executed.
Other, more subtle references to Christian practices and traditions reinforce the idea of wine as the prime symbol of a missing ingredient in an unconsummated. Communion. The rain suggests the Crucifixion, and it falls as if "it were driving nails into a coffin lid" while the priest's doom is being worked out through his transient companions' thirst for the precious wine. Padre Jose, to whom the priest turns for help as he flees the Red Shirts, is a mockery of a priest, with his billowing white nightshirt resembling the chasuble and alb worn by a priest at Mass. The alb, as the name implies, is the long "white" covering which reaches to the celebrant's heels. The lamp which Padre Jose holds is a symbolic reminder of a candle, perhaps of the type that the fallen clergyman might have used at a former church ceremony.
The pursued priest actually "confesses" to Padre Jose even though the act lacks the needed formal dispositions. The protagonist tells Padre Jose of his past pride and swears that he always knew that Padre Jose was the better man. Here, the priest's humanistic confession, especially the revelation of his self-awareness, is more meaningful in Greene's eyes than a formal disavowal of sin, although the Church insists upon the latter as being necessary for salvation. just before the young, disdainful Red Shirt arrives, Padre Jose's wife, like a jaded guardian angel, draws her husband away from any involvement.
The priest's flight from the Red Shirts is his Gethsemane, his suffering in the Garden of Olives, although in this novel his pain — in contrast to Christ's — is heightened because death, for the priest, is several times postponed. The priest is crucified by alcohol, as well as by the state, and his drunken sweat symbolically resembles Christ's "sweat" of blood. Also, the ridicule directed at the priest by the guards, although it is largely harmless, reflects Christ's demeaning treatment by the Roman soldiers after his capture following the Holy Thursday Last Supper. The priest, like Christ, allows himself to be led away by the authorities, but as a "bowed servile figure," he can think only of his own preservation.
Greene makes the parallels to Holy Week traditions explicit in three ways. The servant's large key resembles an object from a morality play, a Medieval dramatization of Christian allegory; the priest asks for water in his cell, but he is refused — just as Christ was given vinegar mixed with gall by His executioners; and, most important, the lieutenant slaps a sentry upon the ear, an act strongly suggesting St. Peter's cutting off a soldier's ear in an act directed against one who dared to lay hands on the Savior.
The priest's martyrdom, like that of the peasants, is carried out on the excruciating rack of the day-in and day-out despair that infects the whole of Greene's Mexico. Everyone is affected by the boredom and filth of the capital city, and most of them are reduced to a near-animal level of emotional responsiveness. The priest is clearly compared to a rat caught in a maze as he is chased by the predatory Red Shirts through darkened, winding streets which are hidden from the moonlight. The professional hunters, the police, join in the search and add methodology to the chase, resembling natives beating the bushes for a wild animal.
The matter of the search for the priest becoming an "animal hunt" is cleverly foreshadowed in the chapter. Earlier, as the priest spoke with the beggar, the thunder was said to sound like the noise of a Sunday bullfight from across town, and the image suggests the comparison of the priest to a wounded bull, a parallel drawn earlier in the novel. As the police are leading the mestizo toward jail at the start of the chapter, the beggar assures the priest — that is, the stranger in the drill uniform — that the two of them need not be afraid: the police are looking for "bigger game." In the hotel room, the Chief of Police assures the group that the priest will soon be caught, for the mestizo has been set on his tracks like a bloodhound.
The bestial nature of this jungle world is seen in the fetid surroundings of the residents and in their coarse actions. Greene cites the "sour green smell" that rises from the river, and the image is effective, even though smells do not ordinarily have color. The Governor's cousin spits on the tiles of the hotel room to authenticate his pretended annoyance at being asked to find wine for the stranger. In addition, Padre Jose spits at the priest, refusing to hear his confession, but so impotent is this married priest that his spittle falls short of its target. The men sleeping in hammocks in the courtyard are said to be like chickens tied up in nets, and note, too, that the jaw of one man hangs over the side of a hammock like a piece of meat on a butcher's counter. All of this description sets the stage for the Purgatory-like setting of the following chapter.
The priest's existence in the midst of such sordidness is lonely indeed; he is stripped of all the amenities that once characterized his office. He completes his "confession" to Padre Jose by dropping the ball of paper saved from his Concepción days at the base of Padre Jose's wall. His act denotes his fear of being defeated by the Red Shirts, and it also symbolizes his easing off the officiousness and pomposity of his past fife. In other words, he wishes to meet his Maker naked, as it were.
The priest faces what he anticipates to be his death, unfettered by material goods or money, or even decent clothing. Later, his official nature emerges again briefly at the Lehrs' home, but then he is able to recognize his backsliding and return to his true mission. Now he is dressed in a shabby drill uniform, watching the lights, which have been awkwardly strung together, and the promenaders. He even looks like an alcoholic, having several cuts on his face as evidence of a desire to shave too closely with a trembling hand. Again, Greene sees the priest as a lapsed businessman, this time one without an attaché case — indeed, as a businessman who is bankrupt.
Ironically, the fact of his alcoholism allows the priest to be accepted by the beggar. Likewise, the Governor's cousin will trust him because he looks like a drinker. Then, too, he is able to keep a secret, and Greene may have in mind the priest's many years of keeping the secrecy of the confessional. The beggar is sure that he will return to the Governor's cousin for more liquor in the future.
The priest is not yet fully purged; perhaps, we must assume, he never will be. Thus, we are somewhat prepared for his being somewhat inebriated later, when he is executed at the end of the novel. In fact, he is shaking so terribly with fear and alcoholic tremors that he has to be led to the place of execution because his legs will not support him. And in this chapter, Greene emphasizes that the priest's addiction to brandy betrays him into weeping in front of the group, and later, into being captured. The clinking sound of the nearly empty bottle alerts the Red Shirts to the forbidden liquor.
In many ways, the beggar resembles the half-caste mestizo, for Greene implies that both men are products of a type of life that the priest ignored during his ministry — when he catered to the more solvent Mexican Catholics. The priest does not know how to relate to the beggar, and his temporizing efforts succeed merely in annoying his companion. As with the half-caste, the priest treats the underling's immediate and dire concerns as if they were elements in a theological disputation. He states that a starving man has the right to save himself. The priest's abstractions merely lead the beggar to see him as cold and unfeeling.
Throughout the chapter, the beggar's ways are those of the halfcaste, the other minor "demon" who plagues the protagonist and eventually helps to bring about his final capture. The beggar's attitude alternates between confidential whispers and threats, and the slapping of his feet on the pavement recalls the barefoot walk of the half-caste through the forest. In addition, his attempts at further confidentiality add merely a darker, even more artificial tone to his relationship with the priest. His closeness remains merely physical, in spite of his touching the priest's leg with his own and placing his hand on the priest's sleeve, much as a former parishioner might have done in asking a blessing. The description of the two men as possible brothers is darkly ironic.
In conclusion, the priest's meeting with the beggar is as accidental as was his encounter with the mestizo in the last chapter. And although the priest's eyes meet the latter's, there is no spiritual recognition. The column of police continues its march with the informer, whose two fang-like, Satanic teeth jut out over his lip. For the moment, the half-caste is more interested in being cared for by the authorities than he is in immediately betraying his chance acquaintance.
Finally, the chapter reveals once again Greene's skilled use of exposition. The jefe tells the group in the room that the arrival of the rains is bad luck for his men; his words follow in response to the symbolic lightning and thunder outside the hotel. We learn too that news of the hidden priest surfaced only a few months before and that it is the Governor, not the jefe, who is obsessed with his capture. Also, in the midst of the wine drinking, it is the priest, the man in the drill uniform, who takes this opportunity to ask about the number of hostages shot. The answer, "three or four perhaps," enlightens the reader as well as the quietly suffering clergyman.