Central Park, hill
It is noteworthy that John retreats to a favorite hill in Central Park. This suggests an obvious desire for escape from those he lives with, particularly Gabriel, and his neighborhood. It is also a metaphor that reinforces John's ambition to rise from his lowly position in society. He has faith in his intelligence and believes that this will allow him to succeed. This may also be read in spiritual terms as biblical parallels are implied at this point (and throughout the novel) as though John is a form of a savior, a messenger from God or even a sacrifice. This gives him momentary heroic status, but when he remembers the history of the treatment of African Americans, in the South especially, his fear of white people and the impossibility of mixing with them becomes apparent.
Dirt is a recurring motif which signifies the poverty John lives in. It is also used to demonstrate his piety and obeisance in his bid to clean the sin away. The family name, Grimes, and John's chores, which constitute the cleaning of the home and church, are symbolically attached to his fear of sin in the eyes of God. This is all the more relevant when remembering that John's memory of what he sees as sinful masturbation comes about when he looks at the stain on the bedroom ceiling. The abhorrence of dirt and chaos also indicates a dread of the abject and emphasizes John's wish to conform.
John is saved in Part Three of the novel and his awakening is elemental to the plot. This spiritual transformation may also be read figuratively as a boy who has developed into a man as he stands up to Gabriel even though he does not receive his approval. His new status metaphorically implies an independence from this dominating relationship and signifies an optimistic possibility of transformation. However, Elizabeth's ambivalent response to John being saved counterbalances this optimism. Because of her reaction, it is possible to see the novel question John's somewhat naive ambition of escaping from his surroundings and, indeed, the dream to transform when racism is so effective in de-humanising individuals.