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.

Christian Symbolism

At many points throughout the book, different characters seem to stand in for figures from the New Testament. Perhaps the most obvious example is the mestizo, whom the priest expressly refers to as "Judas." During his night in the hut with the mestizo, the priest has trouble keeping himself awake, recalling the night Jesus spends in the garden with the disciples who cannot seem to keep themselves awake. Of course, by the end of the novel, the priest's death is reminiscent of Christ's willing sacrifice and his execution at the hands of the authorities. Despite the similarities, one must pay close attention to the differences as well, since Greene is extremely careful to emphasize that his characters have the free will to decide their own paths in life, and are not merely playing out some predetermined scheme.


Coral Fellows, Brigida and the boy are just a few of the children who play key roles in this novel. In a land of violence and persecution, where a sense of community seems to have all but disappeared, the question of what will become of the next generation looms large. The lieutenant seems to be motivated by a desire to help children avoid the pitfalls of his own childhood by wiping out religion. He cannot completely eradicate the memory of religion from the minds of the older generation, but perhaps the work he and his fellow officers have done will effectively rid the next generation of all religious sentiment. The priest is consumed with worry over the fate of his daughter, Brigida, fearing that she has already been altered for the worse by the cruelty of the world. Thus, children seem to symbolize both a future that is very much hanging in the balance, and a present innocence that may be threatened, or even permanently damaged, by the conflicted times in which they live.