What is the effect of the one-sentence paragraph in "Salvation," by Langston Huges?

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When a writer chooses to start a new paragraph, this usually indicates that he or she is moving from one idea to another. Paragraph divisions can symbolize shifts in viewpoint and focus, and can direct the audience's attention to particularly salient points. This is especially true of one-sentence paragraphs, which...

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When a writer chooses to start a new paragraph, this usually indicates that he or she is moving from one idea to another. Paragraph divisions can symbolize shifts in viewpoint and focus, and can direct the audience's attention to particularly salient points. This is especially true of one-sentence paragraphs, which serve to isolate one sentiment or viewpoint and render it more important than those that surround it.

This is the effect of the single-sentence paragraph in Langston Hughes' "Salvation." Isolated in this manner, the statement—"Still I kept waiting to see Jesus"—seems to condense the narration that precedes it to a singular point: yes, the congregation has been performative in its attentions to Christianity, but Hughes has not yet recognized Christ in its actions.

Hughes uses the single-sentence paragraph more than once. Whenever he chooses to isolate a line, the reader must interrogate its significance. Hughes places "So I got up" on its own as a paragraph; this signifies the fact that the action of getting up is its own contained thesis and idea. This action represents a turning point and connects what has come before to what follows. The single-sentence paragraph in this work by Hughes is a coherent literary device which serves to signify to the reader which sections of the action described are the most pivotal.

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"Salvation" is a personal essay by Langston Hughes.  This short essay describes the author's attempt to experience the religious ecstasy that others in his church experienced.  His aunt, for instance, told him of her experience:

when you were saved you saw a light and something happened to you inside!. . .She said you could see and hear and feel Jesus in your soul. I believed her.  

When the narrator, who is Hughes himself, goes to a revival meeting, he expects to share this experience.  The preacher gives a "wonderful rhythmical sermon," and invites the young people to commit their lives to Jesus.  The congregation sings as several young people rush to the alter. 

The next line is the one-sentence paragraph that you are asking about, and it is the pivotal point in the story.  

Still I kept waiting to see Jesus.  

Until this line, we fully expect from the title and the preceding narration that the author is describing the night he dedicated his life to Jesus.  However, when we  read the above line, we know immediately that the narrator does not feel the same as the others in the church, and the story will go in a very different direction.  He feels the pressure to join the others but he hesitates.  He has not seen Jesus. It is important to note that "see" is italicized here.    Did the narrator take his aunt too literally?  Does he think he will actually see a vision of Jesus?  Is he an immature thirteen year old?   Or is he being honest about his feelings?  He cannot feel the others' religious fervor.  Now we know that this story is not about religious conversion.  It is about maturity or the lack of it.  It is about questioning the beliefs of others.  It is perhaps about a permanent alienation from the church, even if this alienation is only a private one.  

 

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