Hughes, Langston


Book Excerpt


Langston Hughes' poetry and plays emerged during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, while Hughes himself held jobs that varied from cook to seaman to English teacher, and that took him as far as Paris and Mexico. In his autobiography, The Big Sea, the poet reflects on his coming of age as an African American, and in this particular story recounts a visit to his aunt's congregation and the gift of salvation it offers him. The gift offered, however, is not, in the end, received. The story invites us to consider why we attempt to save others and the effects of our efforts on those we would help.

Full Text*

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The Big Sea, Langston Hughes (Hill and Wang, 1963), pages 18-21.




Faith and BeliefGiving and ReceivingMotives and Values

Big Questions

How does what we believe affect our actions in the world?When I give, what do I expect in return? What do I receive?Who should we give to and why?Can selfish motives result in positive action?Where do our values come from? Why do we care about what we care about?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What are Auntie Reed’s intentions in bringing Hughes to the revival? What does she hope he receives? What does she expect in return?
  2. What are Hughes’ expectations going into the revival? What are his intentions when he leaves the mourners’ bench?
  3. How was Hughes both saved and not saved from sin?
  4. When giving or helping, are our motives relevant?
  5. When receiving help, what do we owe in return?
  6. How do we recognize what others need? How do we know what care to provide?
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