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

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lzeduhelp21 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the short story "Salvation," Langston Hughes tells of his experience as a young child at a tent revival sermon. He explores the themes of societal pressure, authenticity of faith, and honesty in his story. The author writes this narrative to share his main idea: when he accepts salvation, he actually becomes more of an unbeliever than he ever was before.

The story begins with Hughes as a child. He shares his experience as he is gathered with the other children from the community to an altar call. He describes the emotional build up, the pressure that mounts as each of the children accepts salvation until he is left alone. The conflict of the story arises when Hughes struggles between desire for an authentic conversion and the expectations of the crowd and family for him to accept salvation by the end of the service. The advice given to him by his family regarding an authentic conversion does not align with what he experiences at the moment. He is forced to accept salvation because he feels bad for making the crowd wait for him. He never experiences or sees Jesus the way his family says he will, and ultimately he succumbs to the pressure of the crowd by lying that he has been converted. Hughes regrets his dishonesty at the end, saying,

“I was really crying because I couldn’t bear to tell her that I had lied, that I had deceived everybody in the church that I hadn’t seen Jesus, and that now I didn’t believe there was a Jesus anymore, since he didn’t come to help me.”

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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. 

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the claims of Langston Hughes's short story "Salvation" is that children understand the lies and deceptions of the adult world. While the narrator's aunt wants him to accept Jesus and be saved, the narrator, who is twelve years old, knows that he can fake being saved. His friend Westley decided to feign being saved because he is simply tired of sitting on the church bench in the heat. The narrator's aunt is praying for the narrator's salvation, and he knows that although he has not actually seen Jesus, he can lie. His friend lied and was not struck by lightning, so the narrator decides to do the same thing. His lie is greeted with joy and celebration by the members of the church. As a result, the narrator cries, feeling that religion is one of the deceptions of the adult world. Rather than having been saved, the narrator gains insight into how to lie to make others happy.