The Power and the Glory

By Graham Greene
Genre: Literary Fiction
Buy Now This book is on reading list for December 2014


1. Graham Greene’s novel is packed with complicated and compelling characters (reflecting the complex themes of The Power and the Glory). Their view of the world is often captured in a brief statement. Consider the following and find a few others from the novel that resonate for you.

  • There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.
  • It is one of the strange discoveries a man can make that life, however you lead it, contains moments of exhilaration; there are always comparisons which can be made with worse times: even in times of danger and misery the pendulum swings.
  • You only had to turn up the underside of any situation and out came scuttling these small absurd contradictory situations.
  • But at the center of his own faith there always stood the convincing mystery–that we are made in God’s image, God was the parent, but He was also the policeman, the criminal, the priest, the maniac, and the judge.
  • A poet is the soul of his county.
  • Our sins have so much beauty.
  • It needs a lot of learning to see things with a saint’s eye: a saint gets a subtle taste for beauty and can look down on poor ignorant palates like theirs.
  • Hate was just a failure of imagination.
  • Hope is an instinct only the reasoning human mind can kill. An animal never knows despair.
  • Instinct is like a sense of duty–one can confuse it with loyalty very easily.
  • For peace you needed  human company–his aloneness was like a threat of things to come.
  • Why, after all, should we expect God to punish the innocent with more life?
  • But this was the race which  had invented the proverb that cleanliness is next to godliness–cleanliness, not purity.
  • It is astonishing the sense of innocence that goes with sin–only the hard and careful man and the saint are free of it.
  • When a man wakes after a dangerous operation, he puts a special value upon the first face he sees when the anesthetic wears away.
  • What was the good of confession when you loved the result of your crime?
  • One didn’t trust oness superiors when one was more successful that they were.

2. Look at the structure of the novel and the priest’s journey. Is this a novel of transformation? In what ways does the priest change from his first interaction with Mr Tench?

3. Discuss the complicated character of the whiskey priest. What keeps him from leaving for another state, one more tolerant of Catholicism? Why does he continue to minister to the peasants despite the risk to his life? How does he view those he is so determined to serve?

4. In what way is the priest tormented by his faith…or lack thereof? How does the fact that he has a child factor into his sense of faith and godliness? Does this help him understand the nature of love and sin?

5. Do you see any similarities between Graham Greene’s view of Catholicism and that of Flannery O’Connor?

6. What do you make of the fact that many have been executed as a result of their involvement with the priest, while the priest himself flees. Is the priest’s sense of guilt justified…or not?

7. Graham Greene has given readers a priest who is hardly an exemplar among his peers. For what purposes would the author have created such a character—with his many failings—as the novel’s hero. Why does the priest remain nameless throughout the novel?

8. Is the whiskey priest a martyr? Why does he himself not believe he is one? What does he mean when he says, “I don’t think martyrs are like this”? What qualifies one as a true martyr?

9. Discuss the passage on page 200: “I don’t know a thing about the mercy of God: I don’t know how awful the human heart looks to Him. But I do know this–that if there’s ever been a single man in this state damned, then I’ll be damned too. I wouldn’t want it to be any different. I just want justice, that’s all.”

10. The culmination of the novel occurs in the jail cell. What revelation comes to the whiskey priest? What is the irony of an imprisoned body vs. the spirit? In the end, is the novel one of hope or despair?



(Some of the questions are adapted from LitLovers)

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