Summary and Analysis
Part 3: Chapter 4
As he promised, the lieutenant visits Padre Jose and asks him to hear the priest's confession, but the padre's wife, fearing that he will lose his government pension, forbids her already fearful husband to leave. When the lieutenant returns and tells the fugitive priest that Padre Jose will not come to hear Confession, the priest feels a great sense of abandonment. He asks the lieutenant how long the pain of death lasts during an execution.
In this chapter, both the lieutenant and the priest are deeply dejected — the lieutenant, because he is "without a purpose" now that the chase is over; and the priest (at the dawn of his last day) because he feels that he must face God empty-handed, having accomplished nothing.
This process of deflation, of having arrived at nothingness, begins in this chapter with the lieutenant standing outside of Padre Jose's window, very much like someone who has come to the vestry to ask a favor, or like the fugitive priest did earlier — when he asked Padre Jose for protection. Mistaking the purpose of the lieutenant's errand, Padre Jose swears that he is innocent; he did not grant the request of the parents of the dead little Anita. He did not say a prayer at her grave.
During the scene, note that the laughing children here become an explicit parody of youngsters in confessionals, as they mock Padre Jose from the other side of the "grille." Padre Jose is once again pictured with little pink eyes, looking emptily at the stars; the stars suggest the lofty heights of his abandoned calling, and his little pink eyes suggest the physical, pig-like self-abasement of his vulgar marriage.
After refusing the lieutenant's request, Padre Jose says that he will pray for the priest, his "hand-washing" act recalling the fugitive priest's meaningless gesture toward the mestizo when he left him (although the priest, unlike Padre Jose here, was theologically unable to shrive the unrepentant half-caste). Padre Jose's fumbling with his fallen trousers are symbolically seen as his abortive dressing for a church service, again typifying his buffoonery, but his sincere sympathy for a fellow priest does reveal a depth of understanding hidden deep beneath terrible fear. The picture that we see of Padre Jose his face pressed against the 'bars" of his window, suggests that he will never leave the "prison" of his sacrilegious marriage.
The fugitive priest and the lieutenant are again paralleled, this time in Greene's allusion to a "door" which is forever sealed for both of them. After the lieutenant tears down the pictures of Calver and the priest (thus ending another motif in the novel), he wearily falls into a dream which contains elements of laughter and underscores his failure to find "a door" in a long passageway (life). The priest also dreams of a "door," in a sense — a door of communication as he attempts to open communication again by means of Morse code. The priest's "door" represents the love that the priest should have felt for all humanity, but which he has obsessively focused upon the narrow figure of his daughter, standing beside the rubbish dump. Thus, as we have seen, the priest has failed to love the minor characters whom he has met. His failure is, in Greene's eyes, a failure to love God, Who created all people in His image.
Solitude is another motif which is completed in this chapter. When the priest hears that Padre Jose will not come to him, he drops his head between his knees: ". . . he looked as if he had abandoned everything, and been abandoned." The lieutenant asks whether the priest might like to spend his last night in a common cell with the other prisoners, but the priest responds that he wishes to be alone. He has much thinking to do.
The priest's solitude does not help him feel perfect sorrow for his sins, and his need for Padre Jose suggests Greene's thesis — that is, each person has a communal responsibility. Greene is on the side of those who believe that "no man is an island." Left to himself, the priest imagines that the whole world has turned away from him, and he realizes that it would have been better to spend the final night with the other prisoners. His feeling of loneliness is shared by the lieutenant, whose universe is now completely empty, since he has captured the last active priest in Mexico.
In this chapter, the lieutenants war between emotion and logic becomes clear. Cold reason tells him that he must keep his promise and find a confessor for the priest in order to make credible the work of the new state. Also, he manifests the party fine by dwelling smugly and disdainfully on the word "husband" when speaking to Padre Jose's wife. He takes pleasure in the bantering between the married clergyman and his "housekeeper"; this scene revives his old beliefs about savage religions. But, on the other hand, the lieutenant brings the priest some brandy, offers the community of the common cell, solicitously tells the priest to attempt sleep, and, in general, he does what he can to assure his captive that his death will be speedy.
In the last paragraph of the chapter, Greene hints that the priest might be saved, although he is unwilling to solve the enigma of the priest's destiny for the reader. For one moment, the priest is able to transcend his fear of pain, his self-pitying tears, and even more important, his fear of damnation, which would qualify him for only imperfect Contrition. During that one second, he seems at last to feel perfect sorrow for his sins — that is, sorrow because he has offended God: ". . . an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty handed, with nothing done at all." Yet, in the next moment, he (possibly) falls prey to despair, convinced that he is not a saint, and paradoxically, he knows that it would have been so easy to have been saved. Greene undoubtedly feels that it is not the prerogative of the Christian novelist to make judgments reserved for God.