Hughes makes his decision to be saved despite not "seeing Jesus." Did he make the right decision? Provide at least three reasons for your view. Refer to the story for support.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I would argue that young Langston made the wrong decision to be saved despite not seeing Jesus. First and foremost, it's insincere. Langston should only have stood up and proclaimed he'd seen the light if he'd actually experienced the divine presence. But he didn't. Feeling under pressure, he came forward, and the whole congregation was sent into raptures, none the wiser that Langston hadn't really seen the light at all.

The second reason that Langston's decision is wrong is because it's based on a lie. The young boy hasn't seen the light, and so by telling everyone that he has, he is lying to them. This would be bad enough at the best of times, but in a church, a house of God, surrounded by members of his community, it's particularly outrageous.

Finally, Langston is wrong to come forward and be saved because this is a matter for the individual and his or her conscience. No one in his situation should stand up and proclaim they've seen the light simply in order to avoid social embarrassment. This is a deeply personal decision that should only be made when the individual concerned is good and ready. Langston clearly doesn't fall into that category, so it's wrong for him to stand up under the circumstances.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When writing a brief essay (500 words is not a lot of space in which to construct an argument, despite the brevity of the source text) on whether the author made the right decision, the first thing to do is to introspect: do you believe he was right or not, and can you justify this view? If so, you practically have your essay already. I would, however, ensure that you categorize your ethical points. Are the reasons for his rightness or wrongness deontological (matters of absolute right and wrong) or teleological (based on the consequences)? If you believe he was right, are your arguments merely justifications of his conduct (which say he was not wrong and may border on excuses), or are they positive arguments that he was right?

If you have no strong opinion, or if you need some points to justify it, here are some arguments that may be helpful. First, in favor of the author's decision to pretend to be saved: his action harmed no one but himself and brought joy to his aunt and the rest of the congregation. The fact that he felt bad afterwards merely shows that he was sacrificing his own comfort for theirs. In the second place, he did not actually tell a lie. He merely stood up. Third, he had been put in this false position by his aunt and had been told that he would see Jesus. When he did not do so, through no fault of his own, it was not reasonable for the rest of the congregation to subject him to continued harassment. This is to say, he had no viable alternative except to stand up.

The first and perhaps the strongest of the above arguments is teleological (though one could say that it is based on the deontological principle of self-sacrifice). The second and third are justifications of his action (i.e., they are arguments that the author did nothing wrong rather than positive assertions that he did the right thing). The arguments on the other side are primarily deontological: that it is always wrong to lie. He could not control the behavior of his aunt or the congregation, but he could control his own conduct. You could also point out that he acknowledges Westley's dishonesty in pretending to have seen Jesus, but he follows his example anyway. There is also the teleological argument that his own distress at the end of the story shows that he is painfully aware of having done the wrong thing.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Langston's decision needs to be understood in the context of the immediate situation and the broader events that make up the background of "salvation."

Religious belief has historically been such a powerful thing that people who are not "believers" have often been unable to express their separate views. One gets the impression Langston would have been ostracized from the community if he hadn't gone to the front and acknowledged salvation as everyone else had done. One can imagine the pressure upon a young man under these circumstances as unbearable.

Conversely the problem some of us might have with the story is that in the more liberal atmosphere of our own time, in the twenty-first century, fervent religious belief isn't as common a thing as it was decades ago when the story takes place. So the situation might actually be unimaginable to some readers. Hughes implies that the result of his decision was a negative one, because it proved the opposite to him of the intended message he was supposed to receive: he believed that Jesus had failed him by not appearing.

In retrospect, he might have seen that there was nothing else he could have done but go along with what the other parishioners expected. Some people would say that there isn't anything wrong with "pretending" or with being a "hypocrite" when one must do so. If Langston had resisted the implicit requirement made by the congregation that he "conform," he would possibly have had an even greater sense of regret in the aftermath of the church meeting.

There is another dimension to the question of whether or not to acknowledge "faith" even when one feels that doing so is to be dishonest. The acceptance of Christian belief, or that of any religion, is not necessarily a literal thing, but can be seen metaphorically. One can understand and acknowledge the principles enunciated by Jesus or by the founders of other religions without literally "seeing" them or accepting their divinity. So Langston could have viewed his action as a symbolic one, not as the dishonest pose that he probably considered it.

That said, it's still up to anyone to follow their own conscience. What this means is that whether or not he made the "right decision" was up to him alone to determine. So we, as outsiders, really are not in a position to judge his action one way or the other. Under those same circumstances, I'm fairly certain I myself would have done the same thing that young Langston did, for the reasons I tried to articulate above. But all have the responsibility to make up their minds for themselves, and that is the only valid answer to the question of "doing the right thing," in this or any scenario in our lives.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial