Thursday, October 22, 2009

The sad priest

I finished The Power and the Glory today and loved it.  Going into this book, I wasn't sure what to expect.  I've never read any Greene before, and from just the back cover, I wasn't entirely sure if this was "my type" of book.  But of course, I try to read everything and anything, and so I went into this with an open mind, especially given that I was told to read it for a class, with an eye towards structure and the third person POV. 

Well, I loved it.

The priest was such a sad, sympathetic character to me.  So flawed in so many ways, but ultimately a redemptive person because he is so flawed.  The fact that he is torn up about his sins because he can't be absolved of them -- and the reason that he can't is because he loves the outcome of his mortal sin, his daughter - how can one not sympathize with that?  The way he brings down the difference of the love he should feel for all people vs. the real love he feels for his daughter.  He is so human, so nuanced, so complex in his guilt, in his pride, in the way he is trying to live with the way he has sinned.  There are so many questions that are raised, subtly, thoughout the book, and it's not one that is easily ponderable.  I'm amazed by Greene's ability to infuse this book with so much that is religious, existential, etc, without ever truly preaching.  His characters are not flat stereotypes, but are real people.  And like real people, there is no easy way to determine good or bad; instead there exist so many shades of gray.  Everyone does things that are not admirable, and yet at the end, it is hard to condemn anyone for what they have done.  Even the lieutenant, you get the feeling he's not a bad man, but is simply a man with a different take on what is good and right.

I had whole pages of this book tabbed for inclusion, but ultimately, I think it's futile to copy them all down.  It's hard to encompass the philosophical and moral questions that are raised without reading the whole thing I think.  But I'll put down these:

One mustn't have human affections - or rather one must love every soul as if it were one's own child.  The passion to protect must extend itself over a world - but he felt it tethered and aching like a hobbled animal to the tree trunk.
--[pg. 82-83, The Power and the Glory]

He wanted to say to this man, "Love is not wrong, but love should be happy and open - it is only wrong when it is secret, unhappy... It can be more unhappy than anything but the loss of God.  It is the loss of God.  You don't need a penance, my child, you have suffered quite enough," and to the other, "Lust is not the worst thing.  It is because any day, any time, lust may turn into love that we have to avoid it.  And when we love our sin then we are damned indeed."
-- [pg. 172, The Power and the Glory]

It ought to be possible for a man to be happy here, if he were not so tied to fear and suffering - unhappiness too can become a habit like piety.  Perhaps it was his duty to break it, his duty to discover peace.  He felt an immense envy of all those people who had confessed to him and had been absolved.  In six days, he told himself, in Las Casas, I too... But he couldn't believe that anyone anywhere would rid him of his heavy heart.  Even when he drank he felt bound to his sin by love.  It was easier to get rid of hate.
-- [pg. 173, The Power and the Glory]
The ending was inevitable, but so heartbreaking. 

That's all I want to say.  Read it.  You will not be disappointed.

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