Langston Hughes: A Prominent Harlem Renaissance Author

Categories: Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes, a novelist and a short story writer, is a member of the group of black artists known as the Harlem Renaissance. His well-known short story, 'Salvation', which first published in 1940 in his autobiographical work, The Big Sea, is the story of Hughes at the age of twelve who has an experience of religion. This experience led Hughes's religious understanding in the wrong shape, which is way different from what his Auntie Reed meant. While attending a church revival, he realizes that Jesus would not come to save him like other young lambs.

Langston Hughes uses skillfully many narrative techniques such as: imagery, metaphors, and backstory to describe his clarification of his experience when he did not see Jesus physically. These factors made this story successfully get attention from readers. By breaking down the story “Salvation” in three parts, Langston Hughes illustrates different stages of the emotional struggle toward seeing Jesus from expecting to waiting and disappointment.

Opening the “Salvation” article is the narrator stating that he was saved from God when he was thirteen years old.

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From here, Langston Hughes started telling his own experience. There was a popular religious revival in town which his Aunt Reed attended every night for a week. Hughes was invited to get a chance to be saved. Aunt Reed had told him that “you saw a light, and something happened to you inside! And Jesus came into your life! And God was with you from then on!” (Hughes 93).

He sat in the front row in church, waiting for his Jesus coming.

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Many “young lambs” were saved from sins by preaching, singing, and praying with the preacher and many old people. On the other hand, the author continued to sit and did not move until he saw Jesus. In the end, he and Westley, his friend, were the only ones left. Westley finally walked up and pretended to be saved because of getting tired sitting there. Since Hughes had not been saved yet, his aunt continued to pray for him. Still, nothing happened. He felt ashamed for holding up so long. Also, God had not struck Westly dead for lying, so the author decided to make less trouble by lying about seeing Jesus, “So I decided that maybe to save further trouble, I'd better lie, too, and say that Jesus had come, and get up and be saved” (Hughes 94). Then he stood up, and the whole church burst into shouts of joy.

Later that night, Hughes cried for the last time in his life. His aunt believed the tears were caused by the Holy Ghost when she heard him crying. He felt guilty. He could not tell her the truth that he lied to her and the congregation. Even worse, he now did not believe in God, for Jesus did not save him (Hughes 93-95).

After reading the first part of the story, I wonder what factors into religion and what makes a person believe in God since it relates to spirits which cannot be seen or witnessed through naked eyes. I was born and grew up in a Catholic family. Unlike Langston who was forced into faith at the age of twelve due to his family expectations, I received the Sacrament of Baptism when I was just an infant. I did not have chance to think carefully about religion to choose my own path on faith. I even did not have the feeling of expecting to see the light and waiting for Jesus to come to my life. There was one time I asked my grandmother why my parents did not wait for me getting mature enough to decide for myself to be a Catholic or not. Following a faith is about the same as going to school. My parents still sent me and my siblings to school without asking us if we wanted it or not. It is because my parents know that school is a good place for us. So is religion. Religion is also a good way to form our mind and our soul to be a person of goodwill. However, religion needs time to build up our belief and get into it.

As Hughes’s experience continues at the meeting of the revival in the church, I was curious that Jesus would “come” to him or not. By using metaphors of 'light' and 'seeing Jesus', Hughes’s Auntie causes doubt and confusion for him. He seems to listen and believe word-for-word from what his Auntie Reed said. I still remember that when I was thirteenth years old, I was also told that I would grow up and become more mature with the Holy Spirit. God would fill me with the spirit of understanding and wisdom after getting the Sacrament of Confirmation. I literally listened and believed it. Sadly, I did not feel anything. My limited knowledge about God had not allowed me to understand what people said to me. However, Langston Hughes had a feeling of being ashamed, whereas I fortunately did not have to suffer what Langston Hughes did. I feel bad for Hughes. Moreover, I am sure that if I were in Hughes’s position sitting in front row of church and waiting for Jesus to save me, I would have pretended that Jesus had saved me. Religion is a metaphorical and imaginative form, so instead of guiding the children to the true meaning of religion, the adults just made an innocent kid a liar toward himself and other people.

At the end of the “Salvation” story, I have a feeling of compassion for Hughes’s struggling which should have not happened to him. Instead of feeling regret, confusion, and loss, “I cried, in bed alone, couldn’t stop” as Hughes when I could not feel the Holy Spirit, I had been keeping those words for myself and waiting. As time flies, I got mature enough to get those words’ meanings that I can feel it by my heart and my soul in God’s grace. I believe that it was because God is always with me to keep me being patient in the faith with Him. I did not lose my belief in God’s existence, and it has been getting stronger by time. For me, even though Hughes probably could not see Jesus, I think that he already got saved from God, and the light of God shined on his heart when he cried at home. He seemed to be aware that his lying was not a good deed that he should have done. His crying was tears of regret.

Throughout Langston Hughes’s concise story,” Salvation”, he gave me many feelings and thoughts when he got the chance to find faith for himself in his first time. His narrative reminds me of my childhood experience as well. I realize that learning from our own experience is one of the necessary parts of life. It will shape our mind and define ourselves in our living day, especially it comes to faith and religion. I suppose that religion is a place where people can express their belief individually, and we should get the freedom to choose whatever religion feels right to us.

Work Cited

Hughes, Langston. “Salvation.” Wake Tech English 111 Reader, edited by Wayde Vickrey, 2nd edition, Hayden–McNiel, 2017, pp. 93-95.

Updated: Apr 29, 2023
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Langston Hughes: A Prominent Harlem Renaissance Author. (2022, May 23). Retrieved from

Langston Hughes: A Prominent Harlem Renaissance Author essay
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