The Power and the Glory : Novel Summary: Part 1 – Chapter 4

Mr. Tench writes a letter to his wife in England, whom he has not seen for many years. He is interrupted by a visit from a patient.
Padre José goes for a walk to the local cemetery, where a grave is being dug for a child’s coffin. He walks away, but an old man asks him for a prayer. He is the five-year-old girl’s grandfather. The dead girl’s mother, father and uncle are also present. Padre José refuses because saying a prayer would be against the law. They beg him to pray. He pleads with them to be left alone, saying that he is unworthy. He is in despair, and he knows this is an unforgivable sin.
The woman continues to read about Juan to her children. Juan becomes a priest just as the persecution of the Church in Mexico is about to begin. The boy dislikes the story and says he does not believe it. His mother sends him to his father. His father explains what the Catholic Church had meant to them as children. It kept them occupied and was a focus for community life. The son tells him about the games he and his friends play, in which each plays the part of one of the murdered priests that they have heard about. The father explains that they feel deserted by the loss of their church.
Mrs. Fellows tutors her daughter in history, following the syllabus sent to her by a correspondence course in London. Then she tells Coral to see the cook and order lunch. Coral takes care of this and other family business, including organizing for the bananas to be taken down to the quay. She is used to doing adult tasks. In the barn she finds an empty beer bottle and some crosses scrawled in chalk on the ground—made by the priest.
The Chief of Police and the lieutenant walk down the street together. The Chief says that the Governor has given permission for them to do anything they like in order to catch the priest. If he is not caught before the rains come, the Governor will hold the lieutenant responsible. The lieutenant says he will take hostages from every village, and will shoot them as often as is necessary. They part company. In the plaza, the lieutenant plays with some children, showing them his gun. He believes he is fighting for them, to eliminate all the corruption in society that had made his own childhood miserable.
This chapter shows how much the adult population of the town depends on the church, and how devoted they are to it, in spite of the persecution it suffers. The grieving family at the graveside of the little girl, for example, feel that merely a prayer said by a priest will ease their pain. The woman who reads to her children, and her husband, are also clearly deeply committed to their faith. But the boredom of the boy suggests that the hold of religion on the young is less strong, perhaps even non-existent. If this is so, the lieutenant is succeeding in his desire to eradicate all traces of religion from their society. He believes that it is the children that he is fighting for.
It would have been easy for Greene to have written a melodrama, in which a good priest is hunted down by a bad lieutenant. In fact, when a film version of The Power and the Glory was made in the 1950s, this indeed was the form it took, which made the film a travesty of Greene’s novel. Greene’s premise is far more intriguing. We have already seen that the priest is hardly the stuff of which heroes are made, while the lieutenant, while he is certainly ruthless, is also idealistic. As this chapter makes clear, he cares deeply about his mission, and his ambition is not for himself but for society as a whole. His philosophy is socialistic in the sense that he is prepared to sacrifice individuals to achieve his goals: the goals of the group are more valid than the rights of individuals.