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Salvation In Rare Moments of Life. In Langston Hughes' essay "Salvation," Langston talks about the first time he is going to be saved from sin. Langston is a young boy around the age of thirteen. He is going to church to see Jesus for the first time. In which case, he truly experiences religion for the first time in his life. Throughout this essay Langston uses many narrative techniques such as, imagery, metaphors, and irony to explain his interpretation of that one night when he did not see Jesus. It was the night of the big revival, and Langston, a young boy going on the age of thirteen, was brought to his Aunt Reed's church to see Jesus and be saved from sin.
His aunt told him, "when you were saved from sin you saw a light, and something happened to you inside" (219). He believed her. When he was brought to church, his aunt directed him to the front row, where he sat calmly and patiently in the heat, waiting for the preacher to begin the service. The Preacher welcomed the "young lambs" (219) and started his sermon. Towards the end of his speech he invited the young children to the altar to be saved. At this point, Langston was confused because he was not seeing Jesus before him.
All the young boys and girls sprang to their feet except Langston and another boy named Westley. They were the only two left on, what the parishioners of the church called, the "mourners' bench" (218). Finally, Westley became very restless and decided that he was not going to sit on this bench anymore. Langston was left there all alone untilhis aunt ran over to him and asked him why he was not going to Jesus. She knelt there and prayed for him. Langston sat there waiting for something to happen, but nothing! He truly wanted to see Jesus but he did not.
Finally, he thought to himself and saw that nothing had happened to Westley for lying about not seeing Jesus. Langston then decides that he, too, will go to the altar and lie, hoping that nothing will happen to him for lying to God. Suddenly, loud cries of rejoice were heard throughout the church and everyone was pleased to see that "all the new young lambs were blessed in the name of God" (220). That night Langston cried because he did not understand why he did not see Jesus. His aunt had heard him and explained to his uncle, "the Holy Ghost had come into my life" (220). From that point on he did not believe there was a Jesus, since he did not see him in church that night.
Langston Hughes uses the narrative technique imagery to describe the setting of the essay. The story takes place the night after a big revival, in a hot and crowded church. Langston's aunt Reed escorts him "to the front row and placed him on the mourners' bench with all the other young sinners, who had not yet been brought to Jesus" (218). He sat there patiently waiting for Jesus to come to him. In the meantime, people filled the room with much noise and loud shouts of joy, and happiness. Much of the figurative language Langston uses in his essay "Salvation" can stimulate the senses of a person. For example, Langston describes the church as hot and crowded.
When I was a child I remember entering church and seeing all the people fill up the pews. Everyone packed himself or herself in to get a seat instead of having to stand in the back. This made me feel hot and claustrophobic. Also, Langston's wide use of metaphor and simile helps the reader visualize what he can actually see. For example, when he depicts the men and women who are sitting in the church. He says, "A great many old people came and knelt around us and prayed, old women with jet-black faces and braided hair, old men with work-gnarled hands" (219). This quote is an excellent example of metaphor.
The "old men with work-gnarled hands" really helps the reader picture the type of people sitting around him. The description of the old men's hands is so vivid and lively. It makes you think what type of rough work these men have to do in their everyday lives. Throughout the story Langston uses much dialogue to help the reader understand what he experiences that night when he thinks he is going to see Jesus. In example, when Langston is talking to Westley:Finally all the young people had gone to the altar and were saved, but one boy and me. He was the rounder's son named Westley. Westley and I were surrounded by sisters and deacons praying.
It was very hot in the church, and getting late now. Finally, Westley said to me in a whisper: 'God damn! I'm tired o' sitting here. Let's get up and be saved.' So he got up and was saved" (219). This example of dialogue represents Langston's struggle with not seeing Jesus. At this point, he does not understand why he does not see him. He is ashamed of himself because he is only one left on the bench. Langston is a confused child.
Like most children his age, he does not understand the facts about religion. When his aunt tells him that he will see Jesus and he will come inside him, he takes that literally. Adults sometimes do not realize that they are speaking figuratively. Therefore, the child misunderstands what the adult is saying. I can speak from experience. When I was a child I did not exactly understand who God was except for the fact that my parents taught me to pray to him and be thankful for all that he had given to me. I would go to church and see pictures of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and did not comprehend the fact of who they were.
Until the first day my parents sent me to Catholic school, I was not really sure of the concept of God. This is where I began my first formal teaching of who God is and why I am praying to him. Now, I realize that God is everything. He surrounds us everywhere. In the story, Langston's attitude represents strong character, and when he sees himself lying, he truly feels bad for what he is doing. For example, that night when Langston is in his bed he begins to cry:That night, for the last time in my life but one - for I was a big boy twelve years old - I cried.
I cried in my bed alone, and couldn't stop. I buried my head under the quilts, but my aunt heard me. She woke up and told my uncle I was crying because the Holy Ghost had come into my life, and because I had seen Jesus. But I was really crying because I couldn't bear to tell her that I had lied, that I had deceived everybody in the church, that I hadn't seen Jesus, and that now I didn't believe there was a Jesus any more, since he didn't come to help me (220).In which case, the reader can see that this experience leads to his rejecting God because he didn't believe in him. The theme described in this essay is the initiation into adulthood that Langston experiences. Adulthood is the passage from childhood fantasies to the life long struggle of mature decisions. The conflict in this essay is that Langston is fighting his feelings about not seeing Jesus. He feels that he is lying to God and himself by getting up and being saved even though he cannot see Jesus.
Even though the reader knows that he truly is being saved from sin. He is doing something good for himself. Therefore, we can see that he truly does not understand the meaning of God. He is a child on the verge of adulthood. He has every right to be confused and misinterpret religion because he is learning. Religion is metaphorical and imaginative; it is what you believe it to be.
Langston Hughes found himself in a world of misunderstanding. His confusion leads him to believe that there is no Jesus. This is part of the growing process. Learning from your own experience is the most important part of life. Conflict and struggle are also important aspects of life. They define each and every part of a human's living day. Therefore, the narrative techniques used throughout this essay truly help the reader visualize what the author sees, feels, and hears.Work CitiedHughes, Langston. "Salvation." Subjects and Strategies.
Ed. Paul Eschholz and Alfred Rosa. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999. 218-22..
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