The Power and the Glory

The Power and the Glory (1940) is a novel by British author Graham Greene. The title is an allusion to the doxology often added to the end of the Lord's Prayer: "For thine is the kingdom, (and) the power, and the glory, now and forever (or forever and ever), amen."

This novel has also been published under the name The Labyrinthine Ways.

Time Magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.


The novel tells the story of a Roman Catholic priest in the state of Tabasco in Mexico during the 1930s, a time when the Mexican government, still effectively controlled by Plutarco Elías Calles, strove to suppress the Catholic Church. The persecution was especially severe in the province of Tabasco, where the anti-clerical governor Tomás Garrido Canabal had founded and actively encouraged fascist paramilitary groups (called the “Red-Shirts”) and succeeded in closing all the churches in the state; forcing the priests to marry and give up their gowns, making a hitherto conservative and staid state a model of revolutionary sterility and oppression.

Plot summary

The main character in the story is a nameless "whiskey priest", who combines a great power for self-destruction with pitiful cravenness, an almost painful penitence and a desperate quest for dignity. The other main character is a lieutenant of the police who is given the task of hunting down this priest. This Lieutenant - also nameless - (based upon Gov. Tomás Garrido Canabal,), is a committed socialist who despises everything that the church stands for.

The story starts with the arrival of the priest in a country town where Catholicism is outlawed, and then follows him on his trip through Mexico, where he is trying to minister to the people as well as he can. He is also haunted by his personal demons, especially by the fact that he has fathered a child in his parish some years before. He meets the child, but is unable to feel repentant about what happened. Rather, he feels a deep love for the evil-looking and awkward little girl and decides to do everything in his power to save her from damnation. The priest's opposite player among the clericals is Padre José, a priest who has been forced to renounce his faith and marry a woman (by order of the government) and lives as a state pensioner.

During his journey the priest also encounters a mestizo who later reveals himself to be a Judas figure. The lieutenant, on the other hand, is morally irreproachable, yet he is cold and inhumane. While he is supposedly "living for the people", he puts into practice a diabolic plan of taking hostages from villages and shooting them, if it proves that the priest has sojourned in a village but is not denounced. The lieutenant has also had bad experiences with the church in his youth, and as a result there is a personal element in his search for the whiskey priest. The lieutenant thinks that all members of the clergy are fundamentally evil, and believes that the church is corrupt, and does nothing but provide delusion to the people.

In the end, the lieutenant is able to identify and capture the priest. The Lieutenant admits he has nothing against the priest as a man, but he must be shot “as a danger”. The lieutenant is thus convinced that he has "cleared the province of priests". In the final scene, however, another priest arrives in the town - which, among other possible readings, suggests that the Catholic Church cannot be destroyed.


The Priest: The unnamed main character in the novel, the Priest is on the run from the authorities, who will kill him if they catch him. A "whiskey priest," and not the finest example of his profession, he is an alcoholic who has also fathered a child. In his younger days he was smug and self-satisfied. Now as a fugitive, he feels guilt for his mistakes and sins. Nevertheless, he continues to perform his priestly functions (often in great difficulty) and it is his determination to attend to the spiritual needs of a dying man that leads to his eventual capture and death.

The Lieutenant: The lieutenant is the chief adversary of the priest. He hates the church because he thinks it is corrupt, and he pursues the priest ruthlessly. He takes hostages from the villages and kills them when he feels it is necessary. However, the lieutenant is also idealistic, and believes in radical social reform that would end poverty and provide education for everyone. He is capable of acts of personal kindness, as when he gives the priest (whom he believes to be a destitute drunkard) money on leaving the jail.

The Mestizo: The mestizo is the half-Indian peasant who insists on guiding the priest to Carmen. The priest knows that the mestizo will at some point hand him over to the authorities. The mestizo encounters the priest again in the prison, but prefers to wait for the right moment to betray him, which he does when leading him to the dying American.

Maria: Maria is the mother of Brigitta, the priest’s daughter. She keeps brandy for the Priest and helps him evade the police when they come to her village looking for him.

Brigitta: The young daughter of Maria and the priest.

Padre José: A priest who obeyed the government’s instructions and took a wife. He is dominated by her and has lost both the respect of the town and his self-respect. He refuses to do any priestly duties, even when people beg him to, because he fears the authorities.

Mr. Tench: Mr. Tench is a dissatisfied English dentist who longs to return from Mexico to England. He befriends the priest, whom he meets at the quayside, and later witnesses his death.

Coral Fellows: The thirteen-year-old daughter of Captain and Mrs. Fellows. She befriends the Priest and offers refuge to him for the future. Her fate at the end of the novel is not revealed. Her parents have promised each other not to talk about her again.

Captain Fellows: A happy Englishman who works on a banana plantation who is displeased to find that the Priest has taken refuge in his barn.

Mrs. Fellows: The wife of Captain Fellows. She is neurotic and fearful and hates life in Mexico.

The Woman: The unnamed woman reads to her children the story of Juan and his martyrdom. The Catholic faith is important to her and she wants her children to take an interest in it.

Luis: This young boy shows little interest in the story his mother reads to him, but his interest is awakened by the news of the priest's death.

The Gringo: An American fugitive called James Calver, he is wanted for murder and bank robbery.

The Chief of Police: Mostly concerned with playing billiards and assuaging his own toothache, he doesn't share the Lieutenant's idealism and willfully breaks the law.

The Lehrs: Mr. Lehr, a widower, and his sister Miss Lehr are an elderly couple who allow the priest to stay with them after he crosses the state border. They are Lutherans, and have little sympathy for Catholicism, although they treat the priest with kindness.

Juan: Juan is a character in the "story within a story" that the Mother reads to her family. Juan is a young Mexican man who enters the priesthood, lives a pious life and faces with great courage his death by firing squad.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

In 1947, the novel was freely adapted into a film, The Fugitive, directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda as the priest. In 1959, the story was faithfully adapted for British television, with James Donald as the priest. A highly acclaimed 1961 U.S. television version, released theatrically overseas, featured Laurence Olivier in the role.

Literary significance and criticism

The Power and the Glory was somewhat controversial and, in 1953, Cardinal Bernard Griffin of Westminster wrote a pastoral letter condemning the three Catholic novels (the other two being The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair). His reasoning was that The Power and the Glory was "paradoxical," and he demanded Greene change parts of the text. Evelyn Waugh in Greene's defense wrote, "It was as fatuous as unjust -- a vile misreading of a noble book.". Later, Greene met Pope Paul VI, who assured him, "Mr. Greene, some aspects of your books are certain to offend some Catholics, but you should pay no attention to that." .

Graham Greene weaves in the reality of original sin with power of the Eucharist, suggesting that the grace of the sacrament has the potential to change lives for the better, no matter how frail and sinful the life of the priest administering them, based loosely on the theological truism Ex opere operato. Many novelists consider the novel to be Greene's masterpiece, as John Updike claimed in in his introduction to the 1998 reprint of the novel. Upon its publication,William Golding claimed Greene had "captured the conscience of the twentieth century man like no other."

The title of the novel, found in doxology to the Lord's Prayer, also makes allusion to T. S. Eliot's poem The Hollow Men. The subject matter of the poem deals with the loss of purpose, and the speaker of the poem cannot finish the prayer in the final lines. Some critics feel that Greene attempts to finish those lines through this novel.

Popular Culture

The progressive rock band Gentle Giant named their The Power and the Glory (album) after the book.


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