What is the thesis or claim, of the short story "Salvation" by Langston Hughes?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The short story "Salvation" by Langston Hughes is a condemnation of religious hypocrisy. In this story, a young boy is taken to a revival meeting. In this type of charismatic Christianity described in the story, as people prayed, it was expected that Jesus would appear to them, bathed in light, and they would know themselves to be saved and publicly acknowledge it. The 12-year old narrator does not have any particular transcendent experience but pretends to be saved in response to intense social pressure. When he returns home, he cries bitterly for two reasons, the first being that Jesus did not appear to save him and the second his own hypocrisy.

This work can be read as an anti-religious one, arguing against the pressures of social conformity that force people to become hypocrites. For people who believe in religious freedom, it appears unfair to force children to publicly proclaim conversion, rather than to present religious choices to them and let them choose freely without external pressures. The story also appears to condemn Christianity as hypocritical and coercive, and "salvation" as a fake display.

On a more profound level, one could say that this is a deeply spiritual story in which the young narrator, in his tears, and his rejection of religion as external display, in fact is saved, going through what Saint John of the Cross calls the "dark night of the soul", and learning a profound lesson about the difference between outward show and symbols and inner truth.