Contradictions in the Church
The story “On the Road” by Langston Hughes is one of hope. We see the main character Sargeant, go from being broken and looking to satisfy only his immediate needs, to the end of the story, being fired up! He has hope not only for himself but for the imaginary Christ he met. “On the Road” is a story of a black man during the great depression who finds himself in a worse situation than he began and still feels that he can persevere. This story shows the struggles of the black community and the hypocrisy they endured from those who claimed to be Christ followers. In the story “On the Road”, Langston Hughes utilizes symbolism, allusion, and dialogue to convey the double standards of the church and the suppression of the black population.
The author uses symbolism to display the oppression of the African American race. Snow falling is a constant detail we see throughout the story. This symbolizes the white people. Sargeant walks oblivious through the snow looking for food and shelter. He never once acknowledged the snow falling on him or the discomfort it caused him. “Sargeant never even noticed the snow. But he must have felt it seeping down his neck, cold, wet, sopping in his shoes. But if you had asked him, he wouldn’t have known it was snowing… He was too hungry, too sleepy, too tired.” (Hughes 1) “For almost two hundred years’ white people have suppressed the black population. Hughes’ use of snow and night give us perfect example. Sargeant was tired of fighting, tired of surviving, tired of hoping, and most of all tired of the white people who’ve suppressed and tormented his life.” (123helpme.com) The snow also represents that the color of skin is not important to the main character. Sargeant didn’t even notice the snow until he had reached the church door. “For the first time that night he saw the snow.” (Hughes 1) Throughout the story we also see many references to doors. The doors symbolize the separation between the blacks and whites. Sargeant knocks on a reverend’s door looking for shelter. Seeing that he is wet, dirty, and a dark skinned man, he assumes he is unemployed and sends him away shutting the door. The reverend, being a white man, has a door to shut while Sargeant, an unemployed black man does not. “But the minister said, “No.” and shut the door. Evidently he didn’t want to hear about it. And he had a door to shut.” (Hughes 1) “The reverend’s inability to manifest any compassion for a black man reveals the hypocrisy of his religious beliefs as well as the pervasive racism of the 1930s.” (Osborne) A man of God should help anyone in need regardless of their skin color.
Hughes uses allusion to demonstrate racism and the contradiction of values in the church. When Sargeant finds himself in front of the church doors he feels relieved. Only to find himself in a worse situation. The church refuses to open their doors to him and he tries to break down the doors, only to be bombarded by white police men. “He put his shoulder against the door and his long black body slanted like a ramrod. He pushed. With loud rhythmic grunts, like the grunts in a chaingang song, he pushed against the door.” (Hughes 1) This event is a reflection the biblical story of Samson. Like Samson, Sargeant undoubtedly pitted his great strength against his oppressors. “Therefore, Sargeant feels that his only option is to keep pulling at the church door until the entire edifice falls down… The cruel white bystanders and cops are buried in the remains of the building, leaving Sargeant free to go on his way.” (Osborne) After the church fell down, Sargeant walks down the street with the stone pillar on his shoulder, almost in the same way we see Christ as he carried the cross. Sargent is similar to Christ in the way that he too must carry a heavy burden. “For Christians, Jesus was a savior: He carried the burden of our sins and troubles to show us God’s love for his children. In the essay, Sargeant is paralleled to Christ in a way.” (123helpme.com) Sargeant carries the burden of being unaccepted by white men. “Sargeant got out from under the church and went walking on up the street with the stone pillar on his shoulder. He was under the impression that he had buried the parsonage and the Reverend Mr. Dorset who said, “No!” So he laughed,” (Hughes 2) Sargeant wakes up from his dream to find himself locked in Jail. In his dream he was free from the white people. This shows his desire to free himself from the oppression he faces on a daily basis. “Then the whole thing fell down, covering the cops and the white people with bricks and stones and debris.” (Hughes 2) When the church fell on everyone who refused to help him, it freed him from them.
The dialogue throughout the story allows the double standards of the church and the suppression of the black community to be seen. As Sargeant tried to push through the doors of the church he said “I know it’s a white folks’ church, but I got to sleep somewhere.” (Hughes 2) The author challenges Christianity by showing how judgmental and self-righteous the church has been. Church doors should be open to all. Churches should not be segregated by color. “traditional church values contradict each other when it comes to the acceptance of each human being. In my opinion, Christ was a man of peace and love, who sought to invite anyone, regardless of race, age, or sex, into the kingdom of heaven.” (123helpme.com) The church refused to help a man who was freezing and starving to death because of the color of his skin. If Christ is all of these things, the people who are supposed to be following him and representing him are doing it poorly. “This here is a church, ain’t it? Well, uh!” (Hughes 1) Sargeant pushed against the door as he said this. A church is supposed to be a place to find help or relief when in need. Sargeant questions this as he is being denied access because of his race. As Sargeant and Christ walked down the street together, Christ said he was happy to be off the cross. Christ tells him that he is liberated and free, and couldn’t have done it without Sargeant tearing down the church. “You had to pull the church down to get me off the cross. “You glad?” said Sargeant. “I sure am,” said Christ. They both laughed.” When the church came crashing down, with it came its values, beliefs, and ideals: Such as Jesus being freed from the cross. Christ walks away from the church disappointed and claims to be “glad” to be out of there. “Hughes implicates the white people who keep Christ firmly ensconced in their prayers, but do not live by his teachings, especially when it comes to their treatment of African Americans.” (Osborne) The church falling on all the white men represents Christ’s disappointment in those who did not help Sargeant.
In the story “On the Road”, Langston Hughes utilizes many different forms of figurative language to express the double standards of the church and the suppression of the black population; however, it is his use of symbolism, allusion, and dialogue that stand out the most. These forms of figurative language pull the reader into the story and help the reader understand the pain that the main character, Sargeant, must be enduring. From the beginning of the story we find a depressed Sargeant who has fallen on hard times which we are lead to believe is caused by the depression era and his race. In the middle of the plot we find him to be fighting back against the oppression and fighting for his rights as a human being. Finally, the end of the story comes and Sargeant has proven through symbolism, allusions, and dialogue that he no longer cares what the white race thinks of him and knows that he will survive. Sargeant also learns that the white race’s belief in Christ and their hypocrisy towards anyone who is different, is solely their own belief system and has nothing to do with Christ himself. This story begins with a broken spirit and ends with hope.
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