What kind of man would Westley grow up to be based on Langston Hughes's description of him in his autobiographical short story "Salvation"?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his autobiographical short short "Salvation," Langston Hughes relays that, as the congregation continued to pray for the salvation of the children on the mourner's bench, more and more children came forward to be saved until just he and a boy named Westley were the last two children remaining on the bench. After more praying and crying and singing, Westley whispered to Langston, "God damn! I'm tired o' sitting here. Let's get up and be saved."

Once Langston was the last child remaining on the bench, he further reflects watching Westley on the platform, "swinging his knickerbockered legs and grinning down at me" and noting that "God had not struck Westley dead for taking his name in vain or for lying in the temple." If we were to draw conclusions about what kind of man Westley grew up to be, we could certainly reach one of two conclusions.

On the one hand, Westley's actions showed disbelief, disrespect, and the ability to manipulate a situation to his own advantage, all characteristics that point to Westley growing up to be a man with few morals and poor character, the sort of man who easily winds up on the path towards jail.

Yet, on the other hand, Hughes's short story leaves open to interpretation exactly what the moment of salvation truly is. Due to the amount of figurative language, such as the use of hyperbole, in his aunt's explanation of what the moment of salvation is like, we know that the adult Langston no longer takes his aunt's explanation seriously. So, the story leaves unanswered the question, what exactly is the moment of salvation? It further begs the question, were Westley and Langston truly lying when they "got up and [were] saved"? The whole point of the preacher's story of the lost lamb is that the lamb was just that--lost. As a lost lamb, it was not a perfect lamb, just as Westley was not a perfect lamb. No one in a state of perfection can reach salvation because there is nothing to be saved. Since Westley displayed the characteristics of one who is most lost, one can presume that he was actually truly saved, maybe more saved than the rest of them. Therefore, one can also presume that Westley grew up to change his life around.