Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Riyukta, R, II BA English - Assignment in Modern Fiction

What is power and what is glory in the novel. Explain the significance of the title.

Submitted by: Riyukta, R,

Graham Greene (1904 - 1991)

Greene worked as a journalist and a critic and was later employed by the foreign office. Greene was an English novelist who also produced short stories, plays, screenplays and travelwriting.

His works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world. Greene combined serious literary acclaim with wide popularity.

Although Greene objected strongly to being described as a Catholic novelist rather than as a novelist who happened to be Catholic, Catholic religious themes are at the root of much of his writing especially in, Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, and The Power and the Glory.

The Power and the Glory, first published fifty years ago and is generally agreed to be Graham Greene's masterpiece, the book of his held highest in popular as well as critical esteem. Based upon less than two months spent in Mexico in March and April of 1938, including five weeks of grueling, solitary travel in the southern provinces of Tabasco and Chiapas, the novel is Greene's least English, containing only a few minor English characters.

Perhaps it succeeds so resoundingly because there is something un-English about the Roman Catholicism which infuses, with its Manichaean darkness and tortured literalism, his most ambitious fiction.

These are the words written by John Updike, 1990. This novel, The Power and the Glory revolves around the 'whisky priest,' a worldly priest who is on the run for about seven years during the vicious persecution of the clergy in Mexico in 1938. The Red Shirts have taken control, God has been outlawed and the priests have been systematically hunted down and killed. Now the last priest (unnamed or whisky priest) strives to overcome physical and moral cowardice in order to find redemption.

The novel traces the priest's unsuccessful turbulent escape eventually leading to him being executed.

Like a number of Graham Greene novels, The Power and the Glory deals with the interaction of politics and religion. In this case, there is utter hostility between the two. Politics, as represented by the socialism of the lieutenant, concerns itself with improving social conditions, especially for the poor. Religion, as represented by the priest, concerns itself with the salvation of the souls.

The title of the Power and the Glory is symbolic as it attracts the reader to the main idea taht is to be expected throughout the novel. Greene is a master of writing, he sets up the reader with such a simple title as this. "The Power and the Glory."

The main question throughout the novel is, Who has the power? Who has the glory? Are these two entities tangible, can they be owned? Can two people equally hold these two entities?

The novel does not really go on to answer these questions, it is left to the readers to decide and come to conclusions.

On reading the novel we understand that the squalid lieutenant wants the power for himself as he views the power as tangible.

"Why, I could guarantee to fetch this man in, inside a month if...

If what?

If I had the power." (Chapter 2)/ Spoken by the lieutenant.

On the above said lines by the lieutenant to the Chief of Police, you see the lieutenant's eager desire to gain power. He believes he can hunt down the whisky priest in less than a month if he had the power.

Opposing to the lieutenant's want for power you see the unnamed priest who states that he does not have the power as it is reserved for God.

As we know, religion is outlawed and so the power rests in the hands of the Red Shirts and not with the Church, the priests or even God. The Red Shirts exploit this very power and use it as a tool to hunt down and kill the priests.

While power belongs to the Red Shirts, glory, in the novel is entitled to the priests. Glory has always belonged to God and similarly even in the novel glory is entitled only to God. We see that although the priests are killed religion still exists. The novel ends on such a note, where a new priest knocks at the door of a boy's house. The boy on learning that the man is a priest, welcomes him gladly signifying the immortality of religion.

Greene seems to distinguish and attribute power to the state and glory to religion. Greene tackles the cliched argument of state and religion and leaves no one in doubt about where his loyalties lay. Like most readers, I am left with no choice but to agree to Greene's view of the world. The novel suggests that both ways of approaching life (via politics and via religion) are flawed. The lieutenant cannot see that his zealous idealism may well create as much harm as it does good (a danger to which the history of political revolution in the 20th century gives ample testimony.) In trying to stamp out religion, the lieutenant's approach ignores the deep longing people have for transcendental reality. But on the other hand there are plenty of hints about the hypocrisy of the church, which is always ready to take people's money while ignoring the miserable social conditions in which they live.

The priest as a representative of the church is of course a badly flawed figure. But the fact that he constantly indulges in an orgy of self reproach about his own sins may raise questions for the reader about the value of a religion that leads its representatives into such an overwhelming, soul-destroying sense of guilt. After all, the priest does his best to help himself in extremely difficult circumstances.

In the novel we see that the priest is extremely human for heroism and too humble for martyrdom. The 'whiskey priest' is nevertheless impelled towards his squalid cavalry as much by his own compassion for humanity as by the efforts of his pursuers.

A baleful vulture doom hovers over this modern crufixion story, but above the vulture soars an eagle - the inevitability of the Church's triumph."

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