"Salvation"--which appears in our Essay Sampler: Models of Good Writing (Part Three)--is an excerpt from The Big Sea (1940), an autobiography by Langston Hughes (1902-1967). Poet, novelist, playwright, short story writer, and newspaper columnist, Hughes is best known for his insightful and imaginative portrayals of African-American life from the 1920s through the 1960s.
In the short narrative "Salvation," Hughes recounts an incident from his childhood that deeply affected him at the time. To test how carefully you have read the essay, take this short quiz, and then compare your responses with the answers on page two.
- The first sentence of "Salvation"--"I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen"--proves to be an example of irony. After reading the essay, how might we reinterpret this opening sentence?
(a) As it turns out, Hughes was actually only ten years old when he was saved from sin.
(b) Hughes is fooling himself: he may think that he was saved from sin when he was a boy, but his lie in church shows that he did not want to be saved.
(c) Although the boy wants to be saved, in the end he only pretends to be saved "to save further trouble."
(d) The boy is saved because he stands up in church and is led to the platform.
(e) Because the boy has no mind of his own, he simply imitates the behavior of his friend Westley.
- Who has told young Langston about what he will see and hear and feel when he is saved?
(a) his friend Westley
(b) the preacher
(c) the Holy Ghost
(d) his Auntie Reed and a great many old people
(e) the deacons and the old women
- Why does Westley get up to be saved?
(a) He has seen Jesus.
(b) He is inspired by the prayers and songs of the congregation.
(c) He is frightened by the preacher's sermon.
(d) He wants to impress the young girls.
(e) He tells Langston that he is tired of sitting on the mourner's bench.
- Why does young Langston wait so long before getting up to be saved?
(a) He wants to get revenge against his aunt for making him go to church.
(b) He is terrified of the preacher.
(c) He is not a very religious person.
(d) He wants to see Jesus, and he is waiting for Jesus to appear.
(e) He is afraid that God will strike him dead.
- At the end of the essay, which one of the following reasons does Hughes not give to explain why he was crying?
(a) He was afraid that God would punish him for lying.
(b) He couldn't bear to tell Auntie Reed that he had lied in church.
(c) He didn't want to tell his aunt that he had deceived everybody in the church.
(d) He wasn't able to tell Auntie Reed that he had not seen Jesus.
(e) He couldn't tell his aunt that he didn't believe that there was a Jesus anymore.