Literary Analysis: The End Of The Affair And The Power And The Glory

2062 words - 9 pages

Graham Greene was an author who had the good fortune not only to be critically acclaimed but also to be popular through his writings, despite the inescapable Catholic motif of some of his most enduring novels. The notion of good and evil, and the interplay between them in his narratives is central to his concept of what he believes his adopted religion to stand for. However, his musings on morality and what acts of goodness humans are capable of in their lives are not straightforward repetitions of Catholic teachings on the subjects. His work does not read like propaganda. In fact, people appear to catch religion like ‘a disease’ in his narratives, almost unwillingly so. To believe in a God ...view middle of the document...

This may explain the frequently paradoxical presentation of good and evil found in those examples of Greene’s work discussed here.
The Power and the Glory is a novel derived from Greene’s time in the Mexican state of Tabasco. At the time a regime aspiring to a communist philosophy was denying its population any opportunity to practice their faith, presumably because the church was seen as a mercenary organisation, exchanging mythical promises of salvation for money. Definitions of good and evil vary between that of the lieutenant assigned to track down the last remaining priest in the state, who views religion as a system of repression that demands charity from the poor that they might enter a mythical heaven, and the ‘whiskey priest’ on the run, who is more concerned with good and evil found within individuals, especially himself. His acts perceived as good he diagnoses as motivated by pride, one of the seven deadly sins. He also identifies the lieutenant as good when he is released from prison and given money by the man who does not yet know his identity. The unnamed priest is nuanced in his understanding of the nature of sin. There are two reasons for this. The first is that he has experienced much of what his church condemns as sin himself, having for example broken his vow of celibacy and become an alcoholic. The second is due to his status as a priest; his duty of listening to confessions and absolving transgressions has encouraged him to search for good in those that present an impression of evil onto the reader. The figure he identifies as his Judas, the mestizo or half-caste, who leads him to his captors and executioners, is treated with disconcerting kindness and understanding. His opportunity for betrayal is presented as a trick of fate:
The priest thought… of how much had happened to them since their first encounter in a village of which he didn’t even know the name… If he had been asleep at that moment, this wouldn’t have happened. It really was shocking bad luck for the poor devil that he was to be burdened with a sin of such magnitude.
While not having acted according to Catholic doctrine, the priest constantly displays a forgiving mindset, willing to appreciate the good in others above any evil they display. The lieutenant is more concerned with certainty and facts, and necessarily so. His job is to uphold the law. Those that come to his attention do so because of their sins against the state. His view of them is defined by their sins, and so he sees sin everywhere and seeks to eradicate it. He is practical and worldly. There is no spiritual aspect to his character, and so he does not possess the nuanced perspective (and it is the perspective, not any sense of being free from sin that allows this) of the priest that ultimately turns him into a martyr.
The far more English tale of The End of the Affair, covering a ten-year period starting in 1939, also contains a character that becomes a martyr, and in some readings a...

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