There are many perceptions regarding religious concepts and groups, and the beliefs of many religious people help shape their appearance to the outside world. Mostly when it comes to “altar calls” in services, they tend to be intimidating because of the “dire pictures of hell” (155) that most preachers paint during their sermons. From the Norton Anthology of English Literature, in Langston Hughes’ Salvation, an assessment can be made that it is often difficult for one to make his/her own individual decisions and that oftentimes, those choices are shaped by outside pressures.
Hughes’ experience takes place during a revival and usually during revivals, the sermons get a little bit more uncomfortable and other emotions are involved in order to save “lost sheep”. Some of Hughes’s earlier beliefs were shaped by his aunt, who told him, “…when you were saved you saw a light, and something happened to you inside! And Jesus came into your life!…I believed her” (155). Hughes was only thirteen and at the beginning stages of his teenage years, the words of his aunt sounded so captivating that he believed them all the way to sitting in the pews for such a spiritual awakening to happen to him. Thus, Hughes’ uses exclamations to emphasize the excitement that was strung along to captivate him, and to help the reader understand why he was easily led to believe these exclamations.
Another element on the road to Hughes’ false conversion was the climate “… in the hot, crowded church”(155) and the pleas from the minister, “Won’t you come? Won’t you come to Jesus? Young lambs, won’t you come?” (156). Heat, in this instance, can be interpreted by the reader to mean the intensity of the situation at hand, which was most likely felt by Hughes as he sat during the calls for salvation. Along with the intensity was also the constant pleas from the minister which followed a riveting sermon that tugged on the heartstrings of not only Hughes’ aunt, but as he describes, “And the little girls cried. And some of them jumped up and went to Jesus right away” (156). When Hughes mentions these elements to his experience, it helps many understand how powerful and convincing these revival meetings were during teenage years.
Lastly, peer pressure was the biggest role-player in Hughes’ decision to falsify his salvation. Hughes’ friend Wesley, after taking the name of God in vain, exclaims “…I’m tired o’ sitting here. Let’s get up and get saved” (156). Wesley’s conversion was probably just as false as Hughes’, considering the fact that he had only gotten up because he was tired from sitting in the pews. But nevertheless Hughes concludes “So he got up and was saved” (156) to further isolate himself and add pressure by implying that he was the only one at that point yet to be saved in the congregation. Ultimately, his aunt’s emotions tugged at his own, and even he grew weary of the pleas from the minister and the sobbing and prayers of the congregation. After the minister singles him out by pleading for him to come to Christ and the constant wailing of his aunt for his salvation, Hughes’ tells the audience “I began to be ashamed of myself, holding everything up so long” (156). Now, his surroundings have led to a complete shift in Hughes’ emotions as he continues and thinks about how God had not taken the life of his friend for swearing with His name. Also, the relieved look on Wesley’s face after getting up leads Hughes to conclude, “So I decided that maybe to save further trouble, I’d better lie, too, and say that Jesus had come, and get and be saved” (157).
Hughes’ experience is very telling of how one can be so influenced by outside pressures that he makes the wrong decisions. Hughes’ emotional breakdown at the end signifies a guilty conscience, stimulated from making the wrong choice to lie to everyone, leading to the conclusion of the whole matter: when it comes to making personal decisions, the only one who can ultimately make them is the one to whom the conflict falls upon.