The Spirits move closer to the group of ghosts. One of the Spirits, a cheerful, youthful-looking man, greets the Big Man—or rather, the Big Ghost. The Big Ghost recognizes the man, and calls him Len. The Big Ghost reminds Len that Len murdered a man called Jack; Len nods and explains that Jack is here, too.
The characters of the novel can be divided into two major groups: the ghosts (i.e., damned souls who have been offered a chance at Heaven) and Spirits (i.e., redeemed, or partly redeemed souls who’ve been accepted into Heaven, but linger outside of it to try and persuade ghosts to repent). It’s notable that the first Spirit we meet was a murderer during his mortal life—emphasizing that in Christianity, anything can be forgiven if one truly turns to God.
The Big Ghost demands to know why Len has a solid body and gets to walk around the river, while he has has to spend his time in the grey town. Len explains that the Big Ghost will understand soon enough. The Big Ghost continues to complain that he’s led a good life, even if he wasn’t particularly religious. He was honest and went “straight” his whole life. And yet he ended up in the grey town. Len encourages the Big Ghost to stop complaining—if the Big Ghost can “make a poor mouth,” as Len did before dying, then he’ll be rewarded.
The passage distinguishes between two kinds of people: those who lead immoral lives but ultimately repent and find a true love for God (i.e., “make a poor mouth”), and those who lead supposedly moral lives but don’t really love God. As the Big Ghost’s anger suggests, one of the most challenging features of Christianity is the idea that the former group is more likely to be rewarded in Heaven than the latter.
Len goes on to remind the Big Ghost of some of the things he did in life—for example, he mistreated his wife and children. The Big Ghost sneers and says that he refuses to listen to a murderer like Len. He decides to leave the group of ghosts and “go home.” As he moves away, he mutters that he won’t take “charity” from anyone, and that he has the “right” to be rewarded.
The Big Ghost arrogantly claims that he led a good life, even after Len makes it clear that he didn’t. In all, the passage implies that, almost by definition, humans lead sinful lives (whether the sin is murder or mistreating one’s children), and therefore, no human being has an automatic “right” to go to Heaven. Thus, the only way to achieve salvation is to repent one’s sins humbly and embrace God.