President Plutarco Elías Calles, in the name of revolution, had closed the churches and exiled and murdered priests and practicing Catholics.
In Greene’s journalistic account of his visit, (1938), he describes characters and settings that reappear and form the basis of his novel.
The priest is keenly aware of his weakness and failure as a man and as a priest.
An alcoholic, a scandalous priest with an illegitimate child, a man terrified of pain and death, he harbors no illusions about himself.
In another passage, beetles rush around aimlessly and get crushed or injured; insects seem to be everywhere.
The imagery seems to raise the possibility that human life has no more purpose or value than that of an insect, and is easily crushed by a superior power.
At least in part, this is what the lieutenant believes.
He looks on the earth as a “dying, cooling world, of human beings who had evolved from animals for no purpose at all” (Part I, Chapter 2).
Politics, as represented by the socialism of the lieutenant, concerns itself with improving social conditions, especially for the poor.
Religion, as represented by the priest, concerns itself with the salvation of souls.