'"That's just religion... I know one thing you don't. I know the difference between Right and Wrong. They didn't teach you that at school"

'Rose didn't answer; the woman was quite right: the two words meant nothing to her. Their taste was extinguished by stronger foods - Good and Evil.' (198-199)

This is the principal theme of the book - Right and Wrong versus Good and Evil. Within this theme there are other themes to be explored, most importantly Hell, damnation and salvation. In The Lawless Roads, Greene writes, 'One began to believe in heaven because one believed in hell.' (p.14) This is echoed by Pinkie:

'"Of course it's true," the Boy said. "What else could there be?" he went scornfully on. "Why," he said, "It's the only thing which fits. These atheists don't know nothing. Of course there's Hell. Flames and damnation, " he said with his eyes on the dark shifting water and the black struts of the Palace Pier, "torments."
'"And Heaven too," Rose said with anxiety, while the rain fell interminably on.
'"Oh, maybe," the Boy said, "maybe"' (52)

Hell is the prime motive for Pinkie's faith. It is significant that Pinkie understands Prewitt when he quotes Mephistopheles, "This is Hell, nor are we out of it" (210) whilst Dallow does not (cf. 212). Greene refers elsewhere to a conversation between Rider Haggard and Rudyard Kipling in which they agree that 'this world is one of the hells' ('Rider Haggard's Secret', Collected Essays, p.159-160). Pinkie's religion is divorced from the dogma and liturgy of the church,

'"I don't take any stock in religion. Hell - it's just there. You don't need to think of it - not before you die."
... 'He closed his eyes under the bright empty arch, and a memory floated up imperfectly into speech. "You know what they say - 'Between the stirrup and the ground, he something sought and something found'."
"That's right. Mercy."' (91)

Pinkie's faith is divorced from the church and is based on his certainty that Hell exists, but Hell is not divorced from Heaven nor damnation from salvation. He admits the possibility of heaven - it 'fits'. Similarly, the concept of mercy seems to make sense. He pursues, throughout the book a quest for damnation - his own and others' - but he cannot help wishing for salvation. He professes to Dallow, "Credo in unum Satanum" (cf. 165) but often finds himself murmuring, "Dona nobis pacem".

' "Agnus dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.' In his voice a whole lost world moved - the lighted corner below the organ, the smell of incense and laundered surplices, and the music - 'Agnus dei', 'lovely to look at, beautiful to hold', 'the starlings on our walks', 'credo in unum Dominum' - any music moved him, speaking of things he doesn't understand.' (52)

Music moves Pinkie in a mysterious way. Exactly what it represents is not exactly clear but he seems to recognize in it a certain peace, an escape - perhaps, the presence of God:

'He sang again under the restless stars in a wash of incredible moonshine and, suddenly, inexplicably, the Boy began to weep. He shut his eyes to hold in the tears, but the music went on - it was like a vision of release to an imprisoned man. He felt constriction and saw - hopelessly out of his reach - a limitless freedom: no fear, no hatred, no envy. It was as if he was remembering the effect of a good confession, the words of an absolution: but being dead it was a memory only - he couldn't experience contrition - the ribs of his body were like steel bands which held him down to eternal unrepentance.' (179)

Rose is in a similar position at the end of the book. ' "I want to hope," she said, "but I don't know how."' (246). It does not seem to be despair ('Corruptio optima') but rather inexperience. Damned to inexperience in worldly matters and damned by inexperience in spiritual matters. It seems a bit tough but we can hope: Rose is at least seeking hope; and maybe the vitriol, Pinkie's tool of torture, saved him, burnt through the bands that held him down and freed him to repentance.

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