When Andrés Gentry asked me to cite the most influential book I have read, I listed Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, which I read in high school, as a missionary kid questioning the faith of my family heritage. When I googled the title, I found an interesting take on the book’s Themes, Motifs, and Symbols at SparkNotes.com. I’ll give one example of each.
Theme: The Dangers of Excessive Idealism
To put it simply, an idealist is one who imagines that the world can be a much better place than it is. What could be dangerous about that? The [Mexican revolutionary] lieutenant, in many ways, illustrates the danger. Obsessed with the way things could be, he remains mired in dissatisfaction and bitterness about the way things actually are. Although the wish to help the poor is a noble sentiment, dreams of “starting over”, erasing history, and wiping out all religious belief are simply not realizable. Moreover, being unable to bring about the impossible leads the lieutenant to feelings of frustration and anger, an even more keen awareness of how imperfect the world is, and hatred for those people whom he views as obstacles to the realization of his dream. Moreover, his conviction that he knows what is best for the people is itself a form of arrogance. The priest, on the other hand, comes to accept suffering and death as a part of life; that is not to say that he does not wish to help alleviate suffering, but his faith in the next world helps him to accept the trials and hardships of this one….
Many things are abandoned in this novel, and the words “abandoned” or “abandonment” crop up repeatedly. Many of the townspeople feel that the clergy has abandoned them, and the priest, in turn, feels that the people have abandoned him. Mr. Tench has abandoned his family, Captain Fellows and Mrs. Fellows abandon their house and their dog, and the priest tries to abandon the mestizo on the road to Carmen. These are just a few examples. It is an important motif, because it implicitly raises the most important question, whether human beings have been abandoned by God and left to the cruelty of nature and each other. Significantly, the greatest act of heroism in the novel–the priest’s decision to return to help the gringo–is a refusal to abandon someone in need, and a refusal to abandon a dangerous and ugly world….
Alcohol recurs throughout this book as a symbol with two very different meanings. On the one hand, it represents weakness for “the whiskey priest”; a mark, to him, of his unworthiness and the decadence of his former life. The authorities’ attempts to rid the state of alcohol are a manifestation of the impossible and detrimental desire to purge the world of all human weakness. On the other hand, alcohol is an integral part of the Catholic mass, evidenced by the priest’s persistent attempts to procure wine. As we see throughout the book, the sacred and the profane are often portrayed not as opposites, but as two halves of the same coin.