“Salvation” Write Up by Niara Pelton

Summary

In “Salvation” by Langston Hughes, the main character has been dragged to his Auntie Reed’s church for a youth revival night. Based on what his aunt told him, he was expecting to meet Jesus, encounter a deep spiritual and revolutionizing experience with God. As the preacher begins his dramatic sermon, people slowly began coming up to get saved. Langston feels nothing. The people of the church keep singing and praying and shouting, and one by one the kids come up. Soon the only ones left are Langston and a boy named Wesley. It’s getting hotter and later and nobody is letting up. Since they won’t be able to leave until they are saved, Wesley goes on up and gets saved, leaving Langston alone on the bench, wondering what God would think and what God would want from him. He keeps waiting to feel and see something from God, but he doesn’t, and he knows Wesley didn’t feel anything from God. Under the pressure of his aunts and the churchgoers, Langston goes up to get saved. Later that night, Langston starts crying uncontrollably. His aunt says it’s because he encountered God…Langston knows it’s because he didn’t.

Analysis

This story is compelling from the very first line, because the author immediately presents a contradiction. He says that he got saved but he didn’t. That makes readers want to know how he did get saved, and how he didn’t. It immediately shows that there is an inner dilemma that contradicts the outward circumstances and it makes the readers want to understand the outward circumstances and how they conflicted with his inner circumstances and how that ended.

One thing I loved about this writing that I would want to use in my own writing is the way that the author created a vivid setting without a lot of exposition. He brilliantly wove in small threads of the tapestry throughout the story gradually creating the whole picture. It was subtle and it wasn’t overly expository.  He used a real setting, how own experience that’s a common experience. I personally, have been to churches like that and grown up in churches like that, so I connected to the setting. I could vividly smell, hear, and see the glistening sweat, lemon polish, wood, organ runs…all of the things associated with black churches. He also used variation and metaphors in his description that provided great insight, in addition to a good reading experience.

The chronic tension in the story is the character’s previous (lack of) experience with God, and his aunt’s piety. The acute tension is him being forced to either encounter God, or fake an encounter with God in order to satisfy his pious aunt. The techniques used to show this are the character’s own thoughts, as well as his unwillingness to stand up. At the end of the story, it’s shown through his tears, and his rejection of God. The change is shown in the transition from the character who is eagerly awaiting to experience God based on what his aunt told him, and the character at the end, who’s rejecting the experiences of his aunts, and their idea of God with bitter, sad disappointment.

Discussion Questions:

  • What were your thoughts and reactions to the first line “saved but not saved”?

  • Do you think any of the kids really felt religiously moved?

  • Do you think the aunt had truly felt that experience with Jesus?

  • Why do you think Langston didn’t feel anything? What does his guilt and despair say about him?

  • What do you think God would think of Langston and the other kids? If he is real why wouldn’t he reveal himself? What do you think of the church?

  • What was the perception you got of the social environment of the church?

  • How do you think Langston thought of God after this experience?

  • What do you think would have happened if Langston hadn’t lied?

  • Do you think his aunt and the preacher really believed him?

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