Cleanness combines discussion of a religious virtue with retelling of stories from the Bible. Its three main stories are from the Old Testament, and they centre on Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Belshazzar's feast. All three have a number of episodes. The overarching structure of the poem is based on the pattern of alternating passages of discussion and narrative. The discussions not only link the narratives to each other and reiterate the importance of cleanness; each also draws attention to a particular aspect of cleanness which the story it introduces highlights. Cleanness offers only an abstract discussion of penance, and a shadowy instance of it in action, showing it not as forestalling God's punishment but following it. It uses its considerable length not to develop its opening message, examine it, or move on from it, but to drive it home.