The Night of the Hunter: The Preacher


When describing the preacher, John says, “His name is Harry Powell. But
the names of his fingers are E and V and O and L and E and T and A and H and
that story he tells about one hand being Hate and the other hand being Love is a
lie because they are both hate and to watch them moving scares me worse than
shadows, worse than the wind.”
This description shows the absolute essence of the preacher\'s character
in Davis Grubb\'s The Night of the Hunter. The preacher\'s real intentions are
the hate of the left hand, and he rationalizes his evil through the false facade
of the love of the right hand. Even though he may appear good and holy to some
people, throughout the novel, he still has evil motives towards virtually
everyone.
In one of the preacher\'s dreams while he is in prison, he recalls an
incident in which he rationalized an evil act by claiming it was God\'s will.
After being solicited by a prostitute in Charleston, West Virginia, with the
intention of killing her because of her “unholy” vocation, he takes her up to a
room to murder her. Just as he is about to whip out the switchblade and fulfill
his holy mission, he suddenly hears “God\'s” voice telling him not to bother
because “there were too many of them.” At the moment when this revelation takes
place, the woman of the night sees the preacher in the midst of taking out the
knife, and she screams. The shouting brings a Negro servant, and the preacher
is forced to kill both the servant and prostitute. In Powell\'s sick and twisted
mind, God had merely changed His mind when Preacher\'s life was in danger. There
is a contradiction in “God\'s words” and clearly the preacher is merely using his
“conversations” to aid in his own egotistical self-interest.
The fact that Preacher lies to most people that he meets is a way in
which he puts up the holy act to mask his evil soul. He is an expert in
sandwiching lies between truths, weaving them in a tangled and intricate web and
thus making his lies all the more difficult to discover. When he first rides
into town, he tells the people that he knows Ben Harper because he was the
preacher at the jail that held Ben. In actuality, he and Ben shared the same
cell. Powell does not want anyone to know he stole a car and he can
substantiate his lie because he knows things about Ben from being in the same
cell. As a result, the people (except John) do not suspect Preacher to be the
malicious murderer that he is. The preacher also tells people that Ben told him
that he threw the ten-thousand dollars he stole into the river. Harper actually
never leaked his secret and even stuffed a sock in his mouth to keep himself
from telling. This lie made practically everyone believe the money was gone and
no one (except John) anticipated the preacher\'s greedy plan to steal it. In
addition, Powell also lied after he killed Willa. This time his lie was
intended to conceal an act rather than a motive. He said that Willa drove away
in the car to leave him and even drove himself to shed false tears so that he
would not get into any trouble. Throughout the course of the novel, the
preacher\'s lies gradually become more convoluted.
The instrument with which the preacher “spreads God\'s glory” is the
knife. This weapon is a direct extension of the hate in Preacher\'s heart. He
claims that the reasons for the switchblade\'s usage are “to fulfill God\'s
wishes,” but the opposite is the case. When referring to the knife, he screams,
“This is what I use on meddlers! Get me? For meddlers!” These meddlers that
he talks of are not interfering with God\'s work but instead are interfering with
the preacher\'s personal desires. Frequently, the phrase, “Its steel tongue
licked out.” is used to indicate the action when the preacher presses the
knife\'s button. Because of this novel\'s many biblical references, this phrase
suggests that the knife resembles some sort of serpent like the one in the
Garden of Eden. In the garden, the serpent represents evil like the evil in
Preacher\'s soul. Also whenever Powell holds the knife, it is with his left
hand, and he would press its button with “the finger called H” on his left hand.
Traditionally the left hand is associated with evil