The Power and the Glory : Novel Summary: Part 2 – Chapter 3

The priest sits down against the far wall of the cell, listening to the sounds being made. A couple is making love in one corner. The priest sits against an old man, whose conversation makes no sense. He dislikes priests. A pious woman tells a story about a child being taken from its father, and she expresses respect for priests. This encourages the priest to announce that he is a priest. He says there is no need for anyone to inform on him because in the morning the police will find out for themselves. He admits he is afraid of being shot, that he is a bad priest and is in a condition of mortal sin. As the other prisoners listen to him, he feels an irrational affection for them. He tells them he is not a martyr but a “whisky priest” and is in jail because a bottle of brandy was found in his pocket. He even confesses to the woman that he has a child, and he has not repented because he does not know how to. He assumes that someone will inform on him in the morning, and he announces that there is a reward of five or six hundred pesos for doing so. But a voice in the darkness says that nobody wants blood money. The pious woman asks the priest to hear her confession. He tells her to say an act of contrition for her sins. The couple in the corner makes love again, which disgusts the woman. She turns against the priest because he defends them, saying that their act is beautiful to them, and he is unable to say that it is a mortal sin. The woman threatens to write to his bishop, which only amuses him. He feels a responsibility to her, even though she says the sooner he is dead the better.
Dawn approaches. A voice calls out the name he gave them: Montez. He is expecting to be shot soon, but no one recognizes him or betrays him. A sergeant tells him to empty the pails in the cells. He takes the pails from each of six cells to a cesspool, where he empties them. In the last cell he finds the mestizo, the man who knows him and can betray him any time he wants. The mestizo takes a while before he recognizes the priest. But then he lets him know that he is not yet ready to betray him. He is staying as a guest in the prison and has everything he wants—good food, beer and company. Once he has pointed out the priest, he knows that he will be kicked out. Not only that, since the priest is already in jail, the police might argue that it was they rather than he who caught him, and so refuse to pay him his reward. He says it is better for him to wait, and then catch the priest himself in the town. The priest feels only regret at this, his latest escape. It means he has to keep on living. He finishes cleaning the cells and is taken to the lieutenant. The lieutenant releases him, giving him a five-peso piece. The priest is astonished and tells the lieutenant that he is a good man.
This scene in the prison cell is a great test for the priest. It is almost as if he is already in hell, a dark, timeless world in which he cannot see the faces of the people he talks to. But he acquits himself better than perhaps might have been expected. His compassion for the miserable people languishing in the unsanitary, crowded, uncomfortable cell becomes at one point almost Christ-like: “He was moved by an enormous and irrational for the inhabitants of this prison.” He refuses to despise the woman who turns against him, and he will not condemn the fornicating couple (his own sin of fathering a child of course puts him in a difficult position as far as judging the sexual morals of others). Like Christ also, he patiently waits for the Judas who will betray him. But at the same time as he feels compassion for fellow creatures who are suffering, his feelings of contempt for himself continue. These seem to be a constant in his life. He is never rid of them.
The second part of the chapter reveals the familiar pattern of the priest’s life. He feels certain he is about to be caught, and is relieved and resigned, as well as scared, at the prospect. Then at the last minute there is a surprise, and he escapes. It is as if he is a condemned prisoner continually being marched to the scaffold to be hanged, but then receiving a last-minute stay of execution. But for the priest, living is a burden that much of the time he would prefer not to have to endure. He constantly vacillates between a desire to escape and a desire to die.
The final incident drives home the point that the lieutenant who would arrest him and have him shot nonetheless makes an attempt to live up to his ideals—perhaps a better attempt than the priest. He feels compassion for the priest and gives him money. The question for the reader to answer is, is it better for a poor man to be given five pesos or to have a priest give him absolution before God? What is more important, the needs of the stomach or of the soul?