Consider the title and the first sentence of the narrative essay "Salvation." Explain how these are ironic. What is the thesis/theme of this essay?

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The title "Salvation" and the first sentence, "I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen," are ironic because Hughes's essay actually describes the corruption of an innocent and sincere child, who learned duplicity and dishonesty by going to church. His aunt had told him that...

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The title "Salvation" and the first sentence, "I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen," are ironic because Hughes's essay actually describes the corruption of an innocent and sincere child, who learned duplicity and dishonesty by going to church. His aunt had told him that he would be able to see, hear, and feel Jesus in his soul. This, if not actually a lie (for she may have believed it), was certainly not true. The child waited for a long time for Jesus to reveal himself while the preacher exhorted him to come to Jesus, and his aunt sobbed over him as a lost soul.

Another boy, Westley, who certainly hadn't seen Jesus either, had become so bored that he decided (with an ironic exclamation of "Godammit") to go and be saved. This left only Langston. He observed that "God had not struck Westley dead for taking his name in vain or for lying in the temple" and decided that he might as well be saved as well. This is how he learned to lie, though he still had enough conscience to cry about it. His aunt told his uncle that he was crying because he 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, and 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.

The theme of the essay, therefore, is that an innocent child had to go to church to be corrupted, to learn to lie and to disbelieve in Jesus, the very opposite of what he was supposed to learn. The children are called "lambs" throughout the essay, which suggests that they are being sacrificed rather than saved. In Langston's case, his innocence and integrity, even his faith in Jesus, are sacrificed on the altar of adult hypocrisy.

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Irony is when a statement means the opposite of what it literally says or when events work out in the opposite way than was intended. The title "Salvation" and the opening sentence "I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen" are ironic because the essay describes how Hughes in fact turned away from religion and Jesus as a result of his so-called conversion experience. He was not saved by his experience of salvation, but harmed.

The theme of the essay is that group coercion and pressure to conform are counterproductive, and, rather than helping a person's soul thrive and come alive, this kind of group think can kill it. Hughes comes home and cries—and ironically, his aunt misinterprets this as his joy over the Holy Ghost entering his life. However, it is out of his intense sense of having betrayed his own integrity and the deep disillusionment that has emerged from the experience of lying about a faith experience.

The essay, without saying so in words of one syllable, is telling us not to pressure people into saying that they believe what they do not believe.

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One of the most notable authors and thinkers to emerge during the Harlem Renaissance was Langston Hughes. Although he is best known for his poetry, his narrative essay entitled "Salvation" has the same poignancy that is found in so many of his poems. One of the tools that Hughes uses to communicate his point in the essay is situational irony. His title and his first sentence—"I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen"—suggest an essay full of genuine religious conviction. The reader expects to see a piece that relays the story of how this devout person came to faith. Instead, we see the enormous pressure that the church puts on the attendees, specifically the children, to "come to Jesus," resulting in hypocritical confessions of faith. Hughes, as a child, waits for the genuine feeling of belief, but it never comes. Amidst the shouting, praying, and waiting, he remains as the last child on the mourners' bench until, finally, he figures that "to save further trouble . . . [he had] better lie, too."

Ultimately, the last sentence is the most telling in terms of the theme of this essay. At this point, Hughes has returned to his house, and his aunt hears him crying. While she is overjoyed at his weeping, believing it to be a sign of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, Hughes states, "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 anymore, since he didn't come to help me." Thus, we have an essay that begins with a strong statement of faith. Yet, in reality, the essay calls into question the methods of the church and the existence of a God who could not even make Hughes feel as though he wanted him to "come to Him."

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The title and first line of Langston Hughes's "Salvation," which reads, "I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen," are ironic because he was not in fact saved at his aunt's church. The irony is that rather than being saved and "coming to Jesus," the young Langston Hughes instead just pretends that he is saved to spare himself trouble and because he is ashamed of holding up everyone else. He cries after his supposed salvation, which his devout aunt interprets as a sign that he has seen Jesus, but instead, as he writes, "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." An additional irony is that rather than bolstering his faith in Jesus, his supposed salvation has lessened his faith, as Jesus did not help him when he needed help.

The thesis of this essay is that people often coerce others into feigning belief and that people pretend to be faithful or believers in something solely as a result of social pressure, not out of true faith. Hughes only pretends to be saved to ease his way in the world, not because he experiences a true conversion. This mock conversion only lessens his faith.

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