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

The priest has been traveling through the forest on the mule for twelve hours. He reaches a tiny village he knows well but has not visited for six years. He greets a woman named Maria, whom he knows, and inquires about a girl named Brigida. It transpires that Brigida is his daughter by Maria. He is ashamed of this fact, since as a priest he took vows of celibacy. Maria introduces him to the other villagers as the priest. The people are afraid to offer him hospitality because the police are taking hostages from the villages where they think he has been. Hostages are also being shot. The priest promises that he will hear confessions, say Mass, and then go. Maria shows him to her hut and brings him some brandy. Brigida comes into the room, but she shows him no affection, only contempt. He tries to play with her, but she is rude to him.
Before dawn, he preaches to the villagers, but is interrupted by news that the police are on their way to the village. He finishes Mass in a hurry as the police arrive. He wonders whether this is the moment he will finally be caught. He drinks the wine used in the Mass, and Maria gets him to bite on a raw onion to kill the smell of wine on his breath, which would give him away.
Dawn breaks, and the police assemble all the villagers outside. They search the huts but find nothing. The lieutenant tells the people he is looking for an American murderer (the gringo) and a priest. Anyone who shelters a priest is guilty of treason; there is a reward of seven hundred pesos for his capture. The lieutenant questions them all in turn. The priest gives his name as Montez. Maria says she is his wife. The lieutenant has an old photograph of the priest but does not recognize him from it. But he is suspicious. He asks Brigida who the priest is, and she says he is her father. The lieutenant tries to persuade the villagers to help him, but no one speaks up. He then takes a man named Miguel as hostage.
After the police leave, the villagers tell the priest he should go north, over the border to a different state, where there are still churches and priests. Maria tells him she has broken the wine bottle, and says he must go away. She knows he is a “whisky priest” and seems to have no patience with him. The priest rescues some papers from his attaché case, which Maria had tossed on the rubbish heap, and has one more encounter with Brigida. But again, he fails to get through to her and she is hostile to him.
The priest leaves the village on the mule. Instead of going north, he goes south, following the tracks of the police. After six hours’ traveling, he reaches the village of La Candelaria. After making inquiries about how to get to Carmen, the village where he was born and where his parents are buried, he gets the mule to swim across the river. A mestizo (half-Indian) man comes after him, saying he wants to go to Carmen too. The priest does not trust the man, but they go forward together, the mestizo acting as guide. They reach a little hut where they rest. The priest goes into the dark hut and lights a candle while the mestizo takes care of the mule. When the mestizo returns, he asks the priest to say a prayer, which reveals that he has guessed his companion is a priest. He promises not to betray the priest, but the priest does not believe him.
The priest lies awake, thinking back on his earlier, happier days as a priest, while the mestizo sleeps. When the man awakes, he grabs the priest by the ankle and forces him to listen to his confession. When the priest finally gets free, he goes outside, planning to escape from the man and make his way to Carmen alone. But the man follows him, begging him not to leave him alone. They set off again together, the priest riding on the mule. After a while, the priest allows the mestizo, who appears to be feverish, to ride the mule. The man again accuses the priest of not trusting him. The priest is certain the man will betray him. When they are two hours from Carmen, the priest pushes the mule on in the direction of the town, while he himself takes a different path. He tells the man that he is his witness that he has not been in Carmen. The man curses him. The priest assumes this is because he has lost his chance of the reward money.
Part I of the novel was seen mostly through the eyes of minor characters, such as Mr. Tench, Captain Fellows, the Chief of Police, and Padre José, as well as from the point of view of the lieutenant. But in Part II, this changes. From now on, the novel will be told mostly from the priest’s point of view, and will give prolonged insight into his state of mind.
For the second time in the novel, the priest makes a decision not to take the quickest route to freedom. Just as in Chapter I, when he chose not to sail on the ship, in this chapter he chooses not to go north to another state, but to head south once more. It is as if he feels unworthy of freedom, that he deserves to be punished. The cat-and-mouse game he plays with the mestizo (which will be repeated in Part III), is really with his own conscience. Although his instincts for bodily preservation keep him running and hiding, his awareness of his own sinfulness keeps dragging him back into situations of danger. He cannot stop flirting with the idea of giving himself up, or deliberately allowing himself to be captured, so that he can receive the punishment he feels he deserves. It is a form of self-torture, and there seems to be no escape from it.
This chapter reveals more of why the priest is so tormented. Up to now, he has seemed to be no more than a priest with a taste for alcohol, but now Maria names him for what he is, a “whisky priest.” He is an alcoholic. This chapter also reveals that he had a child, conceived in a moment of drunken passion in the midst of despair and loneliness. Not only does the priest feel guilty about his act, but he is deprived of the normal gifts of parenthood—the love of a child, since Brigida makes no response to his attempts to show his love for her.
This chapter also shows, within a few pages, the clash of value systems between the priest and the lieutenant. The lieutenant pleads with the villagers to trust him, and tries to convince them that they are worth more to him than the priest. “I want to give you everything,” he says, by which he means material things, an end to their poverty. Just six pages later, the priest tries to explain to Brigida, his daughter, how important she is. Political leaders care only about the state, but for the priest, “this child was more important than a whole continent.”