What happens in Salvation?

In "Salvation," the young African American narrator attends a religious revival with Auntie Reed, a devout Christian. She tells him that when Jesus comes into his life, he'll see a white light signifying that he has been saved. When he doesn't see the light, he's upset.

  • Auntie Reed attends a religious revival every night for a week. On the last day, the narrator and the other kids his age are invited to the revival to be saved.

  • Auntie Reed tells the narrator that when he sees a bright light, it means Jesus has come into his life. He interprets this literally and waits for a light to shine in front of him.

  • Though the narrator finds the preacher's words moving, he never sees a light. Ashamed, he lies to the congregation about it, wondering why God didn't save his soul.

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Extended Summary

Langston Hughes, a poet, novelist, playwright, and short story writer, belonged to the group of black artists known as the Harlem Renaissance. His short story "Salvation," published as a chapter in his autobiographical work The Big Sea, and first published in 1940, relates an experience in a twelve-year-old boy's life. This event helped shape the boy's religious understanding far differently from what his Auntie Reed intended.

"Salvation" begins with the narrator stating he was "saved from sin" when he was twelve. Then he announces he was not really saved, explaining what happened.

A religious revival was in town and had proven quite popular. His Aunt Reed attended every night for a week. On the final evening, the churchgoers' children were invited to give them a chance at salvation.

If he was saved, Aunt Reed had told him, he would see a light, meaning Jesus had come into his life. The boy believed her very literally; he had heard other adults mention the same light. So he sat in church, waiting to see this mysterious light and for a big change.

The preacher's sermon was very powerful. His words made some young girls cry as they anxiously went to the preacher to be saved. Many youngsters, however, continued to...

(The entire section is 407 words.)