“…and then he heard the Irishwoman saying, “Those that wish to be clean, clean they will be.” And then he heard the church bells ring so loud, close to him, too, that he was sure it must be Sunday, in spite of what the old dame had said; and he would go to church and see what church was like inside, for he had never been to one, poor little fellow, in all his life…He must go to the river and wash first.” And he said out loud again and again, though being half asleep he did not know it, “I must be clean, I must be clean.” (Pg. 30 Kingsley
I chose to do a close reading of this excerpt for it proved to be a pivotal moment in the text with very religiously charged and symbolic themes. I believe that this excerpt described or represented, for Tom, strong themes of baptism and salvation through Christianity. In almost all religions and practices within the scope of Christianity, baptism is predominantly performed through the symbolic washing away of sins with water, essentially becoming clean. The definition of baptism as given by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is actually,
“1. A Christian sacrament marked by ritual use of water and admitting the recipient to the Christian community
2. An act, experience, or ordeal by which one is purified, sanctified, initiated, or named.” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/baptism)
Multiple times throughout the text Kingsley referenced the fact that Tom was not religious and had not been brought up under a Christian hand, as evidenced when Tom tells the Irishwoman that he knows no prayers to say or, found in the aforementioned excerpt when Kinglsey called Tom a “poor little fellow” for having never been inside a church. (Pg. 30, Kingsley) In this novel it is evident that in order to become the good little Christian and British boy that Tom wants be, he must be saved and initiated into the church. By Tom repeating again and again, “I must be clean, I must be clean” we know that he wants to be saved, he wants the sinner’s soot that has covered his body his whole life to be washed away, he wants to fulfill the prophecy of the Irishwoman that, “Those that wish to be clean, clean they will be.” (Pg. 30, Kingsley) Just as in Christianity, those that wished to be saved will be saved even if it is through death. I believe that when Tom entered the water and fell into “the quietest, sunniest, coziest sleep that ever he had in his life” it was, in actuality, an eternal sleep or death. (Pg. 32, Kingsley) And it was through this sleep and the washing away of the soot that had blackened his body he was baptized and saved, the religious overtones in this scene are so heavy, not only unmistakably referenced by the water, the wish to be clean, and the sleep Tom entered, but the fact that the closer he got to the stream of deliverance the louder and louder the church bells in his head were ringing, as if he was getting closer and closer to church and God.
These religious motifs and themes are predominant throughout Tom’s story and are continually alluded to, however, I think a powerful description or evidence of Tom’s true salvation is, near the end of the novel, when he finally reached Mr. Grimes who was toiling away sweeping chimneys without repentance, Tom “was surprised to see that the soot did not stick to his feet, or dirty them in the least.” (Pg. 180, Kingsley) The fact that the chimney’s soot that, during the novel, had been a mark of sin and immorality could not blacken Tom’s feet symbolizes and proves, to me, that Tom has truly been saved. It is through these significant scenes throughout Tom’s story, and especially within the passage of baptism and salvation excerpted above, that we see Tom’s journey is really one of redemption and salvation so he is able to go ‘home with Ellie on Sundays.” (Pg. 188, Kingsley)