What Is the Meaning of Langston Hughes’ “Salvation”?

“Salvation” is a short personal narrative from Langston Hughes’ childhood about the struggle to reconcile adult concepts with a childish mind. Detailing an afternoon he spends in a church waiting for a literal light and epiphany to reveal Jesus to him, the short story ultimately reveals that Hughes lied about being saved in order to please his aunt and later wept over the deception.

“Salvation” is excerpted from Langston Hughes’ autobiography as an example of an incident that influenced him greatly. Hughes refrains from criticizing his aunt, the church and Christianity, preferring to focus on the lack of communication and misunderstandings that have sprung up in the generation gap. As a child, he felt enormous guilt over deceiving his family and the congregation even though he did so due to the pressure exerted on him by the adults around him. His conversation with his friend Westley exemplifies how the children caved to the adults out of convenience; Westley is no more saved than Hughes, but chose to appease the pastor and his family in order to avoid a confrontation. Even Hughes’ later tears are misinterpreted by his aunt, who announces to his uncle that he is weeping because he’s been saved.