Chandler Hoffman Professor Turley Writing 150 Section 5 25 September 2012 The Pressures of Finding Salvation Langston Hughes’ story “Salvation” is one that raises many questions about his life and childhood experiences. Hughes patterns this story to portray the pressures that caused his faith to be lost. Hughes sat on the mourners’ bench waiting for God to save him but, due to these pressures, he chose to stand and pretend that he found his salvation. Pressure is the influences of outside sources that convince you to conform. Hughes undoubtedly felt pressured.
He felt pressured to find truth. Hughes ironically lost his faith in God because of an extreme environment, high expectations, and an overly passionate caretaker. Churches are places of worship, and that is how Hughes’ church is in a very extreme and loud way. Praises to the Lord were shouted out at every moment and “Amens” were given in agreement frequently. Hughes states that, “Suddenly the whole room broke into a sea of shouting…Waves of rejoicing swept the place [and] women leaped in the air” to portray the enthusiasm and the energy that was flowing throughout the room (281).
Specific words such as, “suddenly” and “rejoicing” show the quick emotional reaction of the church congregation. The environment he was in was capable of great pressure and power. The congregation of the church puts strong emotion into every move they make because of their passion and want “’to bring the young lambs to the fold’”(280). Hughes places this quote in his story to show how the minister sees them and how Hughes feels they are being treated. They are the “young lambs” and the “fold” is the church community and congregation. This congregation was a tight group inviting the children unto their “fold”.
The pressure from Hughes’ environment was part of his downfall towards disbelief in Jesus. Hughes was facing positive peer pressure in a negative way. This means he was being pressured into something that was genuinely good, but it was poorly carried out. Expectations are set so high that any twelve-year-old boy is bound to fail. Hughes said, “My Aunt told me that when you were saved you saw a light, and something happened to you inside! ” (280). Hughes uses this background knowledge to show the expectations of his character and the anticipation that is given to him from his Aunt.
Hughes’ Aunt was only trying to help for “[she] spoke of it days ahead” (280), but in such an extreme environment Hughes could only hope for his expectations to be completed. Auntie Reed was even supported in her claim by “many old people [saying] the same thing” (280). Much of the reason the reader can tell that the setting takes place in a very extreme environment is because of the figurative language Hughes uses to write. He tells of the church and how “the whole building rocked with prayer and song” (280). When he states that the building “rocked” he does not mean it literally rocked.
He uses this word to describe the power of the sounds in the room. Another phrase that is used to show the realness that the congregation felt is when “some of [the girls] jumped up and went to Jesus right away” (280). They did not literally go running into Christ’s arms, this figurative language explains that to the congregation Christ was a real being standing close to them. Hughes states this because it causes one to believe that now, more than ever, he is wanting to gain the same feeling that these young girls have received.
These girls were not the only ones who gave Hughes false hope. Auntie Reed was clearly a passionate woman, for she “knelt at [Hughes’] knees and cried”(281) hoping that he too would feel that same passion towards Christ. It can be inferred that she is the primary care giver of Hughes and raises him to her best ability. Their bond can be assumed to be very similar to a mother-son relationship. Common to most children, Hughes does not want to disappoint his caretaker. He explains himself as “a big boy of twelve years old” (281) and he thought of himself as mature young man.
He gives his age in the beginning of the story, as well, to set the tone and inform the reader of the time in his life that he was currently in. Hughes states that “[his] aunt sobbed”(281) to show the great desire she had from him to feel the spirit of his salvation and of Christ. Auntie Reed is another example of how positive pressure can be formed into a negative way. Auntie Reed’s words, “‘Langston, why don’t you come? Why don’t you come and be saved? Oh, Lamb of God! Why don’t you come? ’”(281) ring throughout this short story. Her begging words are what drive Hughes to stand up.
Children do not want to disappoint the adults in their life. Hughes places the image of Auntie Reed in the reader’s head to give the sense of emotion and tension. Imagery is used a lot by Hughes in this story. One can easily close his or her eyes and envision an enthusiastic Auntie Reed and the actions she was making while waiting for Hughes to start his own move from the mourners’ bench. Hughes uses words “ashamed,” (281) “shouting,” (281) and “ecstatic” (281) to show the emotion that he felt compared to the emotion that Auntie Reed and the congregation felt.
Hughes desired to find his salvation just as equally as the congregation desired him to find it. Although lying is a sin, Hughes found a way that let down no one but himself. Hughes expected to feel the light of Christ when he arrived that night because “Every night for weeks…some very hardened sinners had been brought to Christ” (280) and he expected that same experience to grace him. Hughes sets the reader up with this background knowledge to give him or her the same hope that he might find his salvation. When that did not happen, he wept. That night, for the last time in my life but one…I cried. I cried, in bed alone, and couldn’t stop. ” (281) He wept for the lie he told, he wept for the false hope he gave his Aunt, he wept because he let down himself, and for the fact that he did not see Jesus and therefore did not believe. Although we do not know what church this story takes place in, Hughes has made it a relatable event. Everyone in this world is pressured, whether it is by friends, family, co-workers, teachers, or even parents, pressure is all around.
The choice everyone has to make is whether or not to fall into the trap of this pressure. In “Salvation,” Hughes faces an extreme environment, high expectations, and an overly passionate caretaker which ironically lead to his disbelief in God. Hughes felt he had not seen Jesus, but the church’s community and environment as well as his Auntie Reed quickly pressured him into rising and deceiving the people he cared for most. That pressure that was put on Hughes led to his downfall and his disbelief in God and Jesus Christ. One then starts to wonder, can he have another chance at finding salvation?