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

The priest reaches the capital city of the state. He is dressed in a shabby suit, and he engages a beggar in conversation. He tells the beggar that he is desperate for a drink, and what he really wants is genuine grape wine (he needs this so that he can be prepared to celebrate Mass). He has fifteen pesos to buy the wine with. The beggar says he knows where to get alcohol, although he does not guarantee wine. They go to a hotel and wait in one of the rooms for the cousin of the Governor to return. The beggar says that this man, who used to be his employer, can get anything.
When the man returns, he produces some brandy, but the priest insists on wine. He pays more money and the wine is produced. But then the Governor’s cousin drinks much of the wine himself, as part of a toast, as the other two men drink brandy.
The Chief of Police arrives. He drinks a glass of wine too, and then grabs the bottle, which he soon finishes off, to the priest’s distress. The Chief of Police then starts talking about the priest they are hunting. He has deduced that the man must be in this town, since there is nowhere else for him to go. He also says that there is a man in town who will recognize the priest when he sees him, so the priest cannot possibly escape. (This is the mestizo who guided the priest to Carmen; the two men have already set eyes on each other in this town.) The Chief of Police also says that they have had to shoot three or four hostages.
The priest says he must be going and leaves. He stands in the doorway of the hotel for a few minutes, then darts to another doorway; it is raining and he has nowhere to go. He goes through the door and finds himself in a bar, where soldiers are playing billiards. The soldiers hear the chink of his brandy bottle and quiz him about it, since the possession of alcohol is illegal. They think he is a smuggler. The priest runs away and several soldiers give chase. He seeks shelter at the house of Padre José, but the priest turns him away. Then one of the soldiers catches up to him and he is arrested. When it is discovered at the police station that he has no money to pay a fine, he is placed in a small, dirty, crowded cell. The soldiers do not know he is the priest they are seeking.
This chapter provides what is probably the only touch of humor in the entire novel. But it is grim, tragi-comic humor. It comes in the incident in which the priest finds himself drinking with the Chief of Police, and has to watch while the policeman downs all the wine the priest just bought and was so desperate for, and which he needed in order to perform Mass. There is a double significance to this moment, since it shows yet another level at which the police are depriving the priest of the means to pursue his vocation. This scene is also an example of the technique known as dramatic irony, since the reader knows what the Chief of Police does not—that the very man he is talking to about the hunt for the priest is the priest himself.
If this chapter shows the priest in a bad light, caught ignominiously because of the brandy bottle he carries, Padre José, with whom he is contrasted, is presented in an even worse light. He seems to lack all compassion. In Part I Chapter 4, he refused a prayer for the family of a dead girl; now he refuses sanctuary to the beleaguered priest. Later, in Part III, Chapter 4, he will make another significant refusal. Padre José is an example of a priest who went along with what the government demanded of him. He would not become a martyr, but in an attempt to save himself he loses all his spiritual virtues. Perhaps he is an example of the saying in the New Testament, “he who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).