Character Transformation in “Salvation” Essay

Langston Hughes, in his short story, “Salvation”, uses himself as the character in the story.  Langston does undergo a transformation in his life, as a preteen.  Due to his young age, he feels that his profound conclusion about religion is a betrayal to his family and does not feel as an adult might if they came to the same conclusion.

He wants to believe what his aunt believes and it hurts him deeply that he cannot see what she sees or believe how she does in terms of accepting in religious figures as factual persons.

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  It is the irony of his disbelief as the younger Langston has a more mature take on Jesus, who is spoken of more than other figures in the story, because he requires proof of his existence.

His aunt believes that Jesus could save Langston from sin and holds other beliefs about God and the Holy Ghost that she could not prove.  Her thought process seemed more erroneous and immature than Langston’s.

  Therefore, not only does Langston undergo a transformation in the way he viewed religion, but grew in that he developed a more mature thought process.

Langston is a young boy of almost thirteen years old in this story.  At this age, many young boys grow in many developmental areas.  Using the theme of growth, Hughes deals with this premise in the area of religion.  In the first line of the story Hughes says “I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen”.

This is an interesting line to analyze, as he later says that he was not really saved from sin, in a religious sense.  But, it could be that he is saved from the “sin” of not using rational thought and of being a person, who is heavily influenced from others.  It seems that even though Langston is upset when he believes that he has hurt his aunt by deceiving her in his belief of Jesus, this simply proves that while he was growing into a young man mentally, he was still immature emotionally.

Hughes very descriptive language in dealing with the characters and their behavior in church, does make the practice of religion, itself, seem very immature.  Hughes says that “suddenly the whole room broke into a sea of shouting, as they saw me rise. Waves of rejoicing swept the place. Women leaped in the air. My aunt threw her arms around me”.  But Langston is the only calm person in the midst of all of this chaos.  He thinks rationally and wants to see Jesus, when he does not, he comes to the acceptance that there is no Jesus.  While his aunt is proud, he feels badly that he could not tell her the truth about his deduction.

Langston, also, has the presence of mind to realize that in the past weeks, the church had brought in many people to be “saved” and “the membership of the church had grown by leaps and bounds”.  This is another phase of growth that can be taken from this deduction and this is the growth of moving physically away from family and other institutions to becoming more autonomous.

In conclusion, this story is about growth and transformation.  The title, “Salvation”, may be misleading, as the speaker does not experience salvation in a religious sense.  The salvation that he does achieve is from the freedom of growing into a young man with rational thought and natural questioning of the world around him.

Hughes does a wonderful job of describing the mental growth from boy to man that the character experiences.  The emotional aspect of growth is touched upon too, as the boy is still immature in that aspect.  It can be gathered too that physically, Langston is moving away from his aunt and others in the community to be his own person.


Hughes, Langston.  “Salvation”.  (1940).  Accessible online  Last Accessed 18 November, 2008.

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