Salvation, how many people actually know what it truly means? Better yet, how many times do citizens hear that salvation is the answer to all problems? This, yes, is true, but how many times are Christians encouraged to accept salvation without knowing what they are doing. Langston caught in the middle, sits on the ‘mourners’ bench’ waiting to hear Christ, waiting to feel The Lord, and waiting to somehow see Jesus. In Langston Hughes’ short story Salvation, one is reminded of the biggest controversy found in churches. In this story, the author presents many themes: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self, and Faith vs. Religion. In Langston Hughes’ Salvation, the themes Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self, and Faith vs. Religion are shown through the characters, setting, and all its symbolism.
The theme Man vs. Man is shown through the characters. Langston, as a Protagonist, who is a young boy, was told by his aunt that “you could feel and hear Jesus in your soul” (Hughes, pg. 534), sits patiently, waiting to literally feel and hear Jesus. Langston was in a conflict with his aunt, the deacons, the crying old ladies, and the pastor because they wanted him to stand and accept salvation on their terms. Langston feels and thinks differently. He waits to see his Lord, feel his Lord’s presence, and hear his Lord’s voice. Instead, he hears the pastor saying over and over “why don’t you come? My dear child, why don’t you come to Jesus?” (Hughes, pg. 534) After seeing his friend, he finally decides to get up just to make the church happy. Later on in the story he is very sad because deep down he knows that he has lied to the whole congregation and decides he doesn’t believe in the Lord. Many, just like Langston, are in conflict with the church and Leaders. Many don’t hear the “Saviors” voice audibly; therefore, they follow the voices that are heard. Just like Langston, many begin to doubt that a true God exist because he can’t be seen or heard.
Along with Man vs. Man, the theme Man vs. Self is also shown in the setting. Langston fought with himself internally because he struggled with not knowing what to do. He knows what to expect, and what he had expected didn’t come. Which is why, he struggles internally with himself especially since he is in the church where he thinks the Lord should be at and show himself to Langston. Langston wanted the Lord, he wanted Salvation but he wants “proof,” that The Lord exist. Langston waits to feel, hear, and see the Lord He knows how to make the church happy by lying about him being saved but he knows that he truly wasn’t. He sits on the mourners’ bench surrendering all and waiting for the Lord to find him; but, he did not realize that he was conflicted on the inside. This is shown the night he was crying in the room. The church is an important place which seems to be why he does not seem to show how he truly feels. At home he seems to be free and expresses his true emotions about the situation but behind closed doors to himself. He struggles with himself. He feels badly for lying to the whole church. At the same time he thinks how he would let them down and tell them he lied after hearing his aunt speak to her husband saying how he has the Lord in him. He has this struggle with himself throughout the whole story.
Additionally, the theme Faith vs. Religion is also shown by the use of symbolism, which interrelates with the story. As Langston states in the short story, a revival is going on at his Aunts church. Revival is a time where the reawakening of religious fervor happens. As in the story, readers believe that the symbolism behind Revivals pressured Langston to accept salvation. Revival is portrayed as a symbol of Christianity; and, in Langston’s positions, he accepted salvation because he felt the pressure of being in a church and also being among many who have come to seek revival. Of course, when at a revival, church goers repent and accept Christ. The pressure of being in a church and the pressure of the people around the main character, Langston, pushed him to accept Salvation. Langston had the weight of the church pushing him to get up and walk to the platform. The use of symbolism, we are reminded of the Religion vs. Faith theme. The pastor used his authoritative figure to pressure young Langston to stand up and walk towards him. He, the pastor, sang the words “why don’t you come to Jesus” while holding his hands out to Langston. Is the Pastor supposed to represent Jesus?
In the end, Langston was “saved from his sin”, but at the same time, “not truly saved.” Humans, tend to let their surroundings influence who they are and where we end up in life. Langston’s story portrays the life and how people live it. He portrays it by falling into peer pressure; then in the end, not being able to fully accept his choice which leads to not believing there was ever a Jesus. Many themes can wrap up the short story Salvation; Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self, and Faith vs. Religion through the character, setting and use of symbolism wraps up the story in those three aspects of literature.