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In Greene's novel The Power and the Glory, the worldly whisky priest is on the run from the remorseless lieutenant.

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Introduction

In Greene's novel The Power and the Glory, the worldly whisky priest is on the run from the remorseless lieutenant. The lieutenant represents the new social order and ideals of the Revolution; the priest represents Mexico's persecuted Catholic tradition. Yet neither is a mere stereotype: both are united by their commitment to a higher cause, and the contrast between them is more a matter of personal perspective and experience than it is a matter of overarching ideology. The lieutenant and the whisky priest make very different first impressions upon the reader. The lieutenant�s scarred jaws and immaculate neatness convey an "air of bitter distaste" (p.20) in jarring contrast with the mean setting of the town and police station. He feels "no need of women" (p.23) and is almost inhumanly self-disciplined. Whereas the whisky priest�s disheveled appearance shows signs of neglect: his face is "charred with a three-days� beard" (p.9); he exudes an unstable "drunken hilarity" (p.9). Ironically, each man fulfils the stereotype conventionally assigned to his counterpart. It is the Catholic priest who is unable to tear himself from the pleasant vice of drinking, who fathers an illegitimate child in a lustful moment, who, in fact, fulfils the stereotype of the corrupt police officer. ...read more.

Middle

This "sad and unsatisfiable love" (p.57) parallels the priest�s unsatisfiable love for his daughter Brigitta, whom he meets for the first time in the following chapter. Above all, the two radically different men are united by their self-forgetful devotion, each to his own cause. The lieutenant aims to create a revolutionary better society, eliminating the poverty, superstition and corruption that made his own boyhood miserable. The whisky priest hopes only by his sacramental acts to keep God alive in "all this space between the sea and the mountains" (p.65). Both feel a vast responsibility to the Mexican peasants, and both are willing to run personal risk to fulfill what they take to be their duty. The lieutenant is willing to bear the legal and moral responsibility of taking and shooting hostages; the whisky priest repeatedly misses his chance to escape for the sake of his "children", the Catholic peasants of each village. The priest and the lieutenant are two of the three main characters (the mestizo, of course, being the third) who remain unnamed throughout the novel. This is, in part because they are identified by what they represent: the revolution versus the Church. ...read more.

Conclusion

he loathes himself for being a whisky priest, but also empowered with a more empathetic and less judgmental perspective on the poverty and corruption that he sees in his fugitive journeys. The lieutenant can only denounce sin and suffering: the whisky priest has been crippled by guilt and has experienced the suffering of the impoverished peasant and the hunted man. This is the crucial difference between him and the lieutenant: because of the pain that "was forced on him" (p.70) he is in fact a more complete realist than the nihilistic lieutenant. The perspective of the lieutenant is a dichotomisation between "old" and "new", the comforting opiate of Catholicism and the revolutionary brave new world. This does not make him any less complex or believable a character: Greene does not patronise the lieutenant�s nihilism, any more than he patronises the whisky priest�s inconsistencies. But it does make his ideals harder to empathise with. The reader empathises with the whisky priest, not because he necessarily identifies with the priest�s religious beliefs, but because whereas the lieutenant�s dichotomies apply to one country during one brief period of history, the flawed priest�s understanding of human nature and suffering is almost universal. ...read more.

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