“Salvation,” a section from Hughes’ 1940 autobiography The Big Sea, discusses his experiences with church and spirituality at around the age of 13. In the section, dialogue helps readers understand the world as Hughes received it via other people’s messages and how this came into conflict with the way he understood the world in his own mind at the time.
Some of the dialogue in “Salvation” is indirect or reported dialog. For instance, Hughes writes in paragraph 2 that
My aunt told me that when you were saved you saw a light, and something happened to you inside! And Jesus came into your life! And God was with you from then on! She said you could see and hear and feel Jesus in your soul. I believed her.
The words Hughes reports his aunt saying contain canonical Protestant Christian imagery and concepts: the “light” representing the Holy Spirit and the idea of a personal Jesus living. Even as indirect dialog, the lines convey the Aunt’s ecstasy over these ideas, though the use of the exclamation points. Hughes writes that he trusted these received ideas at the time because they came from adults, people who seemed like they “ought to know” (paragraph 2).
In paragraph 3 of “Salvation,” the words of the preacher in Hughes’ church are directly quoted. Leading the church in a sermon and then a rousing song inviting the children of the congregation to come and accept Jesus’ salvation, he concludes by saying "Won't you come? Won't you come to Jesus? Young lambs, won't you come?" The repetition of “won’t you come” both conveys the sense of a song or hymn, with a repeated chorus or refrain, and increases the sense of excitement and urgency. Watching a powerful, moving preacher invite the children to be saved with the help of an uplifting song, Hughes can’t help but feel compelled.
The irony of the story comes in the fact that Hughes at the time believed the messages he was receiving so much that he was waiting to literally see Jesus to appear in the church, which did not happen. Westley’s words in paragraph 6 help break this spell and make clear that the world as it had been depicted to Hughes through the messages of other people matched neither what he envisioned in his mind nor what he was actually seeing. Westley says: "God damn! I'm tired o' sitting here. Let's get up and be saved." The shock of Westley taking the Lord’s name in vain through the curse removes Hughes’ expectation to see Jesus in the church, and he ends up going down to be saved.
Ultimately, the irony is that Hughes feels doubly conflicted, because “God had not struck Westley dead for taking his name in vain or for lying in the temple,” as he’d been warned could happen, and because feels he lied about “seeing Jesus,” as he’d been told he must do to be saved (paragraph 11).