Langston Hughes Finds God in His Essay “Salvation”
In Langston Hughes’ essay “Salvation,” the author recounts how his failure to “see” Jesus and be outwardly saved results in a deeper, more stirring revelation: that only he---and not Jesus---can save his soul. Although Hughes devotes much of his essay to parodying the salvation experiences and apparent hypocrisy of other church members, and he tells us that the church building is stuffy, uncomfortable, hot and boring, he abruptly changes his tone at the end. When he describes how he cried in bed from guilt at having lied about his salvation, the reader realizes that Hughes has indeed undergone a powerful spiritual awakening: he has been saved from his own hypocrisy.
Hughes starts off his essay using apparent irony by saying he “was saved from sin when [he] was going on thirteen. But not really saved.” (Hughes 351). This leads us to believe that he is cynical about Christianity, and we should not believe he is about to undergo any real spiritual transformation. When he describes having attended Auntie Reed’s Baptist church when he was not even thirteen years old, we get the impression that he is not responsible for taking the experience seriously. At that age, children are impressionable and naïve about religion, which they may not understand, because it offers protection at a time when they are already protected and forgiven by their parents for errors they make, or “sinful” acts. Hughes gives the impression that he is being forced to go to church because of social expectations. He is strongly influenced by his friend Westley, who does not hide his real reason for getting baptized, which is to get out of that hot, stuffy church and get on with his adolescence. Westley tells Hughes “God damn! I’m tired o’ sitting here. Let’s get up and be saved!” Hughes (351). Westley’s ironic and comical interjection aptly sums up Hughes’ view of how the salvation process works in the mind of...
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