Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Dayananth, J, from II BA English - Assignment in Modern Fiction

Critical Commentary on POWER AND THE GLORY and character sketch of the Protagonist
Submitted by: J.Dayananth, II BA English

The Power and the Glory is a novel by British author Graham Greene. The title is an allusion to the doxology often added to the end of the Lord’s prayer. “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, now and forever, amen.

The main character in the story is a nameless "whiskey priest", who combines a great power for self-destruction with pitiful cravenness, an almost painful penitence and a desperate quest for dignity. The other main character is a lieutenant of the police who is given the task of hunting down this priest. This Lieutenant—also nameless but thought to be based upon Tom├ís Garrido Canabal— is a committed socialist who despises everything that the church stands for.

The concept of the sinful priest is elaborated on by minor transgressions which occur rather casually. When he is asked his name during the village raid he replies with the name of one of the hostages who was killed for harbouring the priest, Montez (cf. Greene 75). In itself, this already opposes God's commandment “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (The Holy Bible, 2Mo. 20.16), but it might also hint on an allusion within a larger context. The priest refrains from abandoning his alias on two further occasions, namely when being arrested (Greene 120) and when being questioned in jail (Greene 139). These three incidents of disowning himself can be interpreted as a reference to the biblical story of Jesus' last supper and the prediction he makes regarding his disciple Peter who is to deny his lord three times before the cock crow twice (cf. The Holy Bible, Mk. 14.30). The fact that the nameless priest does not reveal his real identity and rather negate his true name, while it is his own name he negates in contrast to Peter who negates his association with Christ (cf. The Holy Bible, Mk. 14.72), establishes a dualistic structure in the character of the priest. He is both at the very heart of his own faith as well as a traitor in respect of his religious sturdiness.

Other parallels between the priest and Christ can be detected in the motif of being chased, captured and finally executed by the regimes against whose ideological predominance the perseverance of either men stands. When the priest has finally decided that he's “had enough of escaping” (Greene 190), he leaves behind his former modes of action, which involved lies and disguises. He openly returns to the wounded American to aid him, knowing that this means “walk[ing] into [the] trap” (Greene 186) set up for him by the authorities and the mestizo. In conjunction with being betrayed by the half-caste it is striking that the priest “bore no grudge because he expected nothing else of anything human” (Greene 198). As Jesus does not condemn Judas, the nameless priest forgives his betrayer, although Jesus' motivation must be identified as love towards mankind (cf. The Holy Bible, Lu. 23.34) whereas the priest is simply disillusioned regarding human nature. As a result, certain aspects of the priest's personality first allude to Christ's ideals but are then unmasked as side effects of a misanthropic world view. His pessimistic approach is, nonetheless, shaken by the honest “love” (Greene 82) to his daughter and the sincere care he expresses for her mother. Their relationship remains distanced (cf. Greene 78-82) , though, and a close emotional connection to the two reminders of his failing as a Catholic priest cannot be established. A pattern that dominates the nameless priest's behaviour is a distinct tendency to fall into religious routines. He constantly urges himself to fill acquired religious concepts with feelings, which makes him confess his sins to himself relentlessly, yet mechanically (cf. Greene 207-210). Generally, his faith is often perverted by a shift to stiffened religious customs. Triggered by the respectful and uncloaked interest that the parishioners on the other side of the mountains bestow him, he suddenly is seized by an unintended vanity when “he could feel the old life hardening round him like a habit, a stony cast which held his head high and dictated the way he walked, and even formed his words” (Greene 187f). Combined with the manner in which the parishioners haggle for the prices of baptisms (cf. Greene 167, 170), this self-awareness possibly forced him to rethink his position and to finally return beyond the mountains when the half-caste again enters the scenery. However, it certainly puts his religious self-conception into perspective and makes him get closer to an inner stabilisation and to emotional settlement.

Character sketch of the Protagonist:

The protagonist of the story, the priest is waging a war on two fronts: haunted by his sinful past, he struggles internally with deep qualms about himself, and pursued by the authorities, he works to evade capture by the police for as long as he can. The priest is not a conventional hero: he is at times cowardly, self-interested, suspicious, and pleasure-oriented. That is to say he is human. The extraordinary hardships he has endured on the run from the government for eight years have transformed him into a much more resilient and mentally strong individual, although he still carries around with him strong feelings of guilt and worthlessness. He is self-critical almost to a fault.

As the main protagonist of Greene's The Power and the Glory, the priest occupies a unique position within the plot's framework. Not only does his destiny set the readers' focus of attention, but he is also the character which unveils the most detailed insight into his personal sphere of emotions and, thus, becomes most approachable. This idea finds support in the assumption that he is far from being an ideal Roman Catholic priest who is by definition obliged to honour his vows given to his church and, thus, to completely submit to his god's commandments. On the contrary, the portrayal of the nameless priest as a simple human being, who is not immune to vice and sin rather than an example of moral values, crosses the gap between audience and lead character.

The most prevailing aspect of the Priest’s psyche is his personal conflict between responsibility and carelessness. Which becomes observable in numerous situations. Not only is he an alcohol addict and thus often referred to a s a whisky priest and a self-proclaimed ‘coward’ but he also has a tendency to depressive notions and self-pity. Sudden onsets of spontaneous heroism and his general awareness of the negative implications of his actions nonetheless, shine through the image of the failing priest and re-balance his portrayal. He is neither a typical literary role model, nor is he an average anti hero. The nameless Priest falls from one extreme into the other, which can be accredited to the extraordinary circumstances of his life. As a result, the main protagonist of the novel never ceases to surprise the reader and to highlight unexpected facets of the human character.

No comments:

Post a Comment