LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Everyone has a Chance for Redemption: Exploring the Afterlife in The Water-Babies

on January 23, 2013 11:47am


           In The Water-Babies there are extremes in pureness of characters, like Grimes, that master chimney sweep representing almost an absolute evil and, at the other end, Ellie, a child of pure innocence.  Then we have Tom, who is somewhere in the middle as he is a child who has not had any guidance for what is right and wrong morally according to the Christian beliefs of that time.  All of these initially-human characters, despite their innate purity or lack of it, have a chance of redemption once they die, which is quite contrary to the normal Christian belief that only the good and free-of-sin can enter the afterlife.

Starting from the extreme of evil, Grimes is a hateful man who definitely is portrayed as quite the sinner from the very first chapter through his behaviors noted by Tom and the abuse received by Tom, and he is warned by the Irishwoman, who is actually Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, about his “foul” nature (Kingsley 8).  When Grimes falls into the water and is taken by fairies to where he belongs, I assume that this means that he died and was taken either a purgatory or hell because later, he is found by Tom in the Other-end-of Nowhere in a place called Leaveheavenalone, which is definitely not heaven but definitely an afterlife.  Once Tom and Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid help Grimes to realize some of the pain he’s caused, he is freed from that place but only to work in a crater to “work out [his] time” (Kingsley 184).  He has a chance at redemption, but he must first work to earn it after realizing his sins.

Conversely, Ellie is the picturesque angel (and the image is more obvious later when she is given wings), and as an innocent child, it seems like she could just enter into heaven, no problem.  However, even she must pass a sort of pre-heaven trial of a purgatory-like nature before being able to enter.  She had to commit good deeds by first going where did not like to go and help someone who she did not like (Kingsley 127).  After helping Tom become a better person and Christian, she was redeemed and her soul allowed to enter heaven.

Now Tom, a more middle character between good and evil, also had to follow a path similar to Ellie’s in order to be able to be saved.  As a human, Tom did not know right from wrong and committed sins, but he was given a second chance when he desired to be clean and was transformed into a water-baby (like a baptism to start anew).  After being taught to be a good Christian by Ellie and the fairies, he desired entrance to heaven, and so he, too, had to help someone he didn’t like in a place he wouldn’t like.  It was after a long and arduous journey and his reaching out to help Grimes, his abuser, that he completed this quest and was redeemed and allowed to enter heaven.


            All three characters of varying degrees of “innocence” have a chance in the afterlife to achieve redemption.  This is contrary to mainstream Christian belief in that one should have repented all sins before dying in order to ascend into heaven, but this portrayal of saved souls after death reveal what are possibly the author’s thoughts on that matter — everyone has a chance at redemption whether in life or in the afterlife.

Kingsley, Charles. The Water-Babies : A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby. New York: Penguin Group, 2008. Print.


One response to “Everyone has a Chance for Redemption: Exploring the Afterlife in The Water-Babies

  1. I like the connections you have made here where you point out Kingsley’s divergence from the quintessential Christian standards of Great Britain during this era. I believe that although Kingsley was a preacher, he is commonly characterized as a man who mocked the notion, on either side of the argument, that science and religion could not work as one. Kingsley’s acceptance of all people into heaven, granted they pay their due, is a direct contrast to the “fire and brimstone” type theology which dominated religion during the time period when The Water Babies was written. I believe this is a testament to Kingsley’s own personal view of religion. It seems that the author cared more for the justifiable moral lessons religion imparts upon humanity, rather than its use as an adamant “roadmap to salvation.” As with all issues regarding the afterlife, the sheer enormity surrounding the enigma of life after death is enough to scare any human into following a strict set of guidelines to escape damnation. The fact that Kingsley, as a preacher, directly challenges the Church’s authority regarding how a person can be accepted into heaven is a credit to why this book is worthy of critical acclaim. This author chose to question the most engrained belief structure the world has ever known, and he did so in the most unthreatening way possible: through a children’s tale. The overall moral of the story teaches children the fundamental values which Christianity is based upon, but blatantly disregards the rules it imposes upon its followers. He teaches children about love and caring through Ellie’s giving nature. He touches on the importance of compassion and forgiveness through Tom’s trials. He even warns children that they must pay a price for their sins through the fate of Mr. Grimes. Yet he does all of this without demanding they sign a staunch contract that claims all other religions and ways of life as evil. Kingsley’s religion was pure and simple: Doasyouwouldbedoneby and you will Bedonebyasyoudid.

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