Tuesday, 10 February 2009

John Jeba Jayasingh, J, II BA English, Assignment in Modern Fiction

Critical Analysis of The Power and the Glory

Interaction between the Political Ideologies and the Religious Beliefs.

Submitted by: John Jeba Jayasingh, J., II BA English

A priest in the state of Mexico was condemned as a traitor to the State and an ‘heretic’ and he was escaping the judgment of the State higher authorities who has given power in the hands of a lieutenant. Lieutenant was a firm believer in the principles of a secular state. In order to get rid of all the priests in the State, the Lieutenant sets out to catch them. He has caught everyone except this particular priest. So to catch him he even goes to the extent of holding someone in the village as hostage to know the whereabouts of the priests. The priest is addicted to drinks. He had had an illegitimate relationship with a woman called Maria and a daughter Brigitta through her, but still, despite his weaknesses and unworthiness he wants to practice priesthood and extend his service in all the ways possible. He was summoned to hear the confession of a dying mother who has a little boy and no one in the village betrays him. During his escaping he goes to the house of a plantation owner and the owner’s daughter Coral hides him and steals beer for him and doesn’t betray him to the lieutenant who comes to the same house in the search of the priest and stays there the whole night. Meanwhile Mestizo a notorious criminal without the priest’s knowledge was followinghim to betray him in order to get the price reward. The Priest was caught for having brandy and was jailed and Mestizo happens to be in the same jail. However he waits for the priest to be released so that he will also escape and betray the priest and get the reward. Eventually both priest and Mestizo were released. Mestizo suddenly goes to the priest one day and asks him to come and hear the confession of a dying person. Priest even though he is sought after by the State, the sense of ‘duty prevails him. And without knowing that this was a trap laid out to capture him goes and hears the confession of the dying person and when he comes out of the house he is arrested and sent to jail. At last the lieutenant shoots and kills the priest, thereby fulfilling his ambition.

In this great work of Graham Geene, many a times the political ideologies and the religious beliefs are found to be in conflict with each other. The lieutenant obsessed with is political ideologies, was determined to put an end to Catholicism and take away the priest’s life with a recalcitrant attitude. He singlemindedly pursues his goal. The lieutenant envisages a “Ideal” state of perfection, corruptionless society, and therefore he endeavours to implement his ‘ideologies’, in a stringent way. But the lieutenant was ignorant to realize, and predict the danger behind all his pursuit. Although helping the poor is a noble sentiment, the methodology that he devised to do that was by stamping over and wiping out all religious beliefs which sounds absurd. Moreover, by his incapability to establish a ‘ideal’ state of perfect that he imagined, he gets frustrated over people whom he thinks that they stand as an obstacle in his pathway of progress. His personal opinion that he knows what is people best for people move than anybody else, is in itself a form of arrogance. The priests on the other hand, comes forward to undergo suffering and death as a part and parcel of life as is taught by his faith. Lieutenant had developed a kind of aversion to the Catholic Church. He behaves as a disciplined and a principled man with a strong sense of justice. He is very much committed to political ideals that he thinks will help the poor, and create equality and tolerance. The way he executes to achieve his goal is tyrannical, arbitrary and extremely violent. He madly runs about the villages catching someone as a hostage and menace that person’s life at the cost of not disclosing the whereabouts of the priest ministering in that village. Though the lieutenant has such a zeal to attain and fulfill his expectations, he at times is flexible in his mindset. He wavers between the ideas of violence and non violence. At some time or the other in the novel he wants to show that he is not altogether an unkind person after all. After his long conversation with the priest, he softens his attitude towards him. He says that,
‘I am not a barbarian. You will be
Tried… properly.”

He wanted to show the priest that he is not altogether a cruel person to kill him without any reasonable cause. But the movement that he belonged to had taught him to look at the people within generalized terms. He had a strange prejudice against all the Catholic priest and is overwhelmed with his own self-righteousness. He thinks that all those who work under him were good. The priest proves himself to be modest, intelligent and compassionable disrupts the lieutenant’s habitual way of looking at the Catholic clergy. By the end of the novel the Lieutenant has accomplished his mission but he feels a strange sense of emptiness and despondency. Without a noble target in mind his wild pursuits leave a lingering doubt in his mind and trouble him regarding his trouble killing of the priest.

The Lieutenant indeed had some bravery and courage built up within him. But he executed and employed his so called bravery and courage in an improper way. He was not able to think freely and his conversation and his interaction with the young boy shows that he was just obsessed with the idea of authority, power and bravery. The young boy was playing on the roadside while the lieutenant passed by that way. The young boy threw a stone at him. When lieutenant asked him what he is doing, the boy replied that he thought that lieutenant was the ‘bingo,’ the sought after murderous criminal. Lt immediately appreciated his act of courage and valour. The lieutenant somehow wanted to get rid of the world of corruption and deceit. The lieutenant yearns for purity, righteousness and a flawless ideal state of being. Graham Greene wanted to show that impurity as the unavoidable element in the spiritual elemen world and pursuing obsessively to get rid of that can lead someone to horrific and self defeating means.

Graham Greene was very much interested and concerned in showing the gap between life as it is believed. Many stories are told by some of the characters in the novel, through whom Graham wanted to disclose the real spiritual condition and need of a man. We find a woman narrating a story of Juan the young martyr, to her own son. But her son was not at all interested in listening to the story. Graham wanted his readers to realize how the younger generation are becoming indifferent to what are called values, faith, etc. So dreaming of a politically idealistic state without God in it is absolutely impossible. Ideologies may sound good and nice but it can’t be enforced and retained unless we are aided by God. Godlessness is well portrayed in this novel. The lieutenant with all his strength strives to wipe out all religious beliefs but the more he does the more people realize how indispensable is that. We find that the priest whom he is searching for is summoned to be prayed for a dying person at one occasion. So even in those times of persecution we find certain people clinging to their religious beliefs however corrupt the Church and the priests were. The second thing Graham Greene wanted to show was the frailties of the priest, even though he professes sanctity, purity so on and so forth. The priest was somehow addicted to alcohols. Sometimes he madly pursues and longs after it. He had secretly and illegally married a woman and begat a child which the priests are forbidden to do. Therefore he draws parallel between Juan and the priest, just to show how real life differs from idealistic stories. Priests undergoes a severe mental struggle within himself. He strives within himself to repent for the misdeeds that he has committed but ultimately he is unable to repent, whereas if we see Juan’s life was so close to God and he was loyal to his King and Saviour until his end time. Next Graham Greene wanted to illustrate the interrelated nature of so called elements which appear to contradict each other but at some points or the other they merge together love and hate, beauty and suffering, good and evil are just a few of the many pairs of seemingly opposites that Greene insists aren’t really opposites at all. In this case, his aversion to priests actually hails from a love and concern for poor people. Both the feelings stems from the same strong emotions; The desire to safeguard the innocent from exploitation, and the outright rejection of injustice in any form. The priest often discovers the beauty of life (although being imperfect) in the moments of greatest sufferings and hardships. Moreover the priest and the lieutenant who play the opponent roles come together and agree at some points at the end of the novel.

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