The Power and the Glory : Novel Summary: Part 1 – Chapter 2

A squad of police makes its way through the town back to its barracks. The squad is led by a smartly dressed lieutenant. He sits down in the Chief of Police’s chair and hands out sentences to petty criminals. The Chief returns, suffering from toothache. He says the Governor is displeased because there is still a priest who has not been caught. The Chief produces a photograph of the man, taken a long time ago. The Governor has told him he must capture the priest this month, before the rains come. The police know he tried to escape to Vera Cruz, and they also found the donkey he rode on to visit the dying woman. The lieutenant, who hates priests, says they will catch him. He pins the photo up on the wall, next to a photograph of an American wanted for murder and bank robbery. They refer to the American as the gringo.
The lieutenant plans to catch the priest by taking a hostage from every village in the state. If the villagers do not report the priest when he showed himself in their village, the hostages would be shot.
The lieutenant, who does not believe in God, goes home. He recalls how the Red Shirts had shot about five priests against the wall of a cemetery. He has no sympathy for the priests. He also recalls a priest who married, conforming to the Governor’s law, but breaking his vow of celibacy. (This is Padre José.)
In the back room of the local school, a woman reads to her two young daughters and her fourteen-year-old son from a religious book about the childhood of a saintly Mexican man named Juan. The girls listen intently but the boy is bored. The woman is worried about the boy, since he keeps asking about a priest who came to see them, whom the mother calls a “whisky priest.” The boy has also been talking to the married priest in town, Padre José. The woman consults her husband, but he knows they have been abandoned by the church in their small town, and they must accept it. There are no better priests available to talk to the boy.
Deep in the night, Padre José, who is old and fat, sits on his patio. He is conscious of his sins and envies those priests who have been killed. Death is quick, but his life seems to go on forever. His wife calls him to bed. He feels terrible, like a buffoon. He knows that as a priest he still has the knowledge and the power to turn the wafer used in the communion service into the flesh and blood of God. But this makes his life even worse, as if at every moment he commits a sacrilege against God by being who he is. He has nothing to do and there is no one even to hear his confession. Children outside mock him, imitating his wife’s call for him to come to bed.
This chapter introduces the other major character in the novel, the lieutenant. He is contrasted to the priest in many ways. First, he is always neatly dressed, in contrast to the shabby priest. This can be seen in the first description of him: “His gaiters were polished, and his pistol-holder.” This neat, well-polished appearance of the lieutenant is emphasized many times in the novel. It is an indication of his character: he wants to clean up society and rid it of its corrupt elements, which he believes to be the priests. His methods are cruel, but he believes they are necessary.
The fact that the Chief of Police has a constant toothache is significant. Pain is omnipresent in this novel, whether physical or mental. It seems to be the inescapable human condition. And as in the first chapter, life is presented as gloomy and joyless. For the woman who reads to her children, being abandoned by the church is a terrible thing that blights their lives. Her husband agrees, “But we have to go on living,” he says. People have to endure, whatever their situation.
The gloominess is found also in Padre José. His discontent and boredom with life is similar to that of Mr. Tench in the first chapter, although the priest has a layer of religious, metaphysical guilt to deal with as well.
The priest and the lieutenant represent different ways of dealing with the pain of life. One copes with it through religion and the hope of salvation, and the other through the ideal of social reform. The lieutenant does not care if individuals must die in order to improve society—he is quite prepared to shoot hostages— while for the priest, the individual is all-important, because he or she has a soul that can be saved.