Salvation by Langston Hughes Analysis
“Salvation” by Langston Hughes is a part of his autobiography found in the third chapter of his memoir, The Big Sea. It’s a short narrative on a significant part of Hughes’ childhood as a Christian whereby it gives a description of a religious service that is taking place in an African-American church that sees the need for an individual to be ‘born again’ as a basic requirement for salvation. Furthermore, individuals that are not saved are considered to be sinners. In “Salvation”, Langston Hughes uses the element of symbolism to illustrate his childhood experience with the Christian doctrine in regards to color and collectivity.
It is worth noting that during the beginning of the 20th century, revivals were quite popular when compared to the current world. They provided platforms for people to meet, be prayed for and obtain deliverance from their ‘sinful’ ways (Fisher 22). The revival meetings always attracted a large crowd such that most children were encouraged by their parents and guardians to attend. In such meetings, being saved implied experiencing the Holy Spirit and ‘seeing the light’ such that once a person is ‘born again’ he or she was not considered a sinner. The meetings were characterized with singing, dancing and lots of prayer (Fisher 22).
One of the notable forms of symbolism is color symbolism. The people taking part in the revival come from the African-American community; including Hughes. He states, “ Several old individuals came near us and took on to their knees and prayed,” (Hughes 31) emphasis being on the phrase “jet-black faces” as the description of the crowd. Another symbolic aspect regarding color is the revival taking place at night, when it was dark, and that the salvation process is regarded as bringing people to the light. Hughes explains that his aunt told him that when an individual experienced salvation, something took place in their bodies such that Jesus became part of their lives (Hughes 31). Still on color symbolism, the children are being referred to as lambs in various parts of the text. A good example is Hughes statement that “”to bring the young lambs to the fold."” (Hughes 31) in explaining the gathering of children into a small meeting for them to be ‘born again’. From a Christian perspective, Jesus is often associated with a lamb without blemish and most of the times, the lamb is considered to be white in color. From Hughes’ narration, the salvation or the assimilation of the African-Americans into Christianity depicts the assimilations of the people into the white community. Therefore, Hughes uses the element of symbolism to illustrate his childhood experience with the Christian doctrine in regards to color.
Hughes uses the collective force of the attendees to symbolize his physical placement of being part of a group of children seated on a bench; then becomes part of two people still on the bench; then being left alone on the bench and then finally joining the whole congregation by sacrificing his self-will. He states, “"The entire flock prayed for me , in a huge moan of sighs and singings."” (Hughes 32). Hughes shows that the whole congregation acted as a single force instead of the actions rising from an individual impetus. Therefore, Hughes uses the element of symbolism to illustrate his childhood experience with the Christian doctrine in regards to collectivity.
As stated earlier, in ‘Salvation’, Langston Hughes uses the element of symbolism in regards to color and collectivity in illustrating his childhood experience with the Christian doctrine. It may be perceived that the salvation experience for Hughes was ironical as he did not actually convert into Christianity but rather into atheism as he states, “and that now I didn't believe there was a Jesus anymore” (Hughes 32). He cries for deceiving the church that he had seen Jesus while in the real sense he did that to prevent more trouble.
Salvation by Langston Hughes Theme
From the very beginning, the author states his skeptical attitude to religion by saying, "I was saved from sin when I was 13. But not really saved." It helps understand readers that the story will be focused on religion, its value, and related problems. However, the story is not as obvious as it seems to be. There are many unexpected twists and bring moments that help examine both sides of the religion from the perspective of a little boy.
Everything starts from a small misconception. Adults frequently don't keep in mind that children don't understand metaphors and grasp everything literally. Also, they always trust adults and have a well-developed imagination. Consequently, when they have any questions in their minds, they tend to fill the gaps with the help of their imagination instead of clarifying any details. The aunt of Langston brought him to a religious revival meeting. He was told that he would see the light once he got saved by Jesus. He sat on a bench along with other children, expecting to be saved. He didn't understand that he needs to have an inner feeling of being saved. Langston expected a direct sign in the form of bright light that would help him know that Jesus saved him. However, it didn't happen.
All the children came on the stage after experiencing salvation. Consequently, the last boy stood up from a bench and went to the stage just because he didn't want to sit anymore. After this, Langston also joined the others without getting the sign. He lied to everyone, stating that he was saved, but he knew it didn't happen. The boy didn't understand why others experienced salvation, but Langston didn't. In addition, he violated one of the Christian morals by lying, so he had to be punished by the Lord.
After this, he cried at night, being overwhelmed by everything that happened to him during the event. He understood that he was forced by circumstances to lie. However, he didn't understand why Jesus decided not to save him. The reason why Langston felt stressed was because of his unrealistic expectations. In truth, he didn't wait for bright light only. The boy wanted to see Jesus himself because everybody knew about him. However, he had to accept the fact that the Lord didn't want to save him. The story aims to showcase the importance of keeping children far from salvation and any other event related to faith. Adolescents shouldn't be forced to participate in religious activities as they don't understand the spiritual aspect of faith. They take all the words literally, expecting physical signs or punishments for violating morals. In addition, the author wanted to highlight the importance of staying your ground, even when nobody supports you. If you decide to follow someone, you may face a lot of unforeseen issues. Therefore, you shouldn't lie or do what you don't like to satisfy other expectations.
Fisher, George Park. “Discussions in History and Theology”. New York: Routledge, 2015. Print.
Hughes, Langston. “The Big Sea: An Autobiography”. New York: Paw Prints, 2008. Print.
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