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Langston Hughes “Harlem: A Dream Deferred”
In his poem, “Harlem: A Deferred Dream,” Hughes foregrounds the frustration of African Americans whose unfulfilled goals and expectations expose them to a serious destruction. The genre of the poem, the language and other literary devices greatly participate in highlighting the negative impact postponing dreams may have on individuals.
The deferred dreams of African Americans put them in a desperate situation in which anger and frustration are overwhelming. “Harlem: A Dream Deferred” is a very short but meaningful poem that illustrates the mood of African Americans. It portrayed the realistic situation of blacks during the pre-civil rights movement era when they experienced racial prejudice that hindered their hope and kept their dreams deferred. Despite the expectations Harlem Renaissance had for blacks, the dreams failed to be realized and were therefore deferred. The speaker states: “What happens to a dream deferred?” (line 1) Through this question, Hughes engages a reflection about the impact postponing dreams may have on African Americans. Hughes does not only ask questions, but he also proposes answers, and through the literary devices he employs he works efficiently to convey the frustration and anger of blacks. He actually uses language, imagery and other literary devices to highlight the frustration and make the reader feel it and understand it. In the poem, Hughes depicts the destructive effects of dreams deferred. however, these dreams are not just about simple dreams that happen during people’s sleep but goals African Americans have in their lives. These dreams cannot be realized on time because of the racial discrimination and hard living conditions of African Americans. Through questions that cannot find answers or just negative answers, Hughes demonstrates the negative effect of postponing dreams of black people. The speaker answers the first question about the outcome of a dream deferred with another question: “Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?” (2-3) –A raisin is already dry and ready to eat, so exposing it to the sun will ultimately destroy it. Through this image, Hughes indicates that blacks want to realize their life goals now. they cannot wait any longer. Deferring the dreams of African Americans will make their living conditions worse, and their awareness of the failure to fulfill their goals is simply destructive. The speaker adds: “Or fester like a sore— / And then run?” (4-5) –this image of infection reflects the accumulation of anger blacks feel about having to defer their dreams and the desperate situation they live in. Moreover these lines: “Does it stink like rotten meat? / Or crust and sugar over— / like a syrupy sweet?” (6-8) compare dreams deferred to rotten meat. The smell and decay reflect the negative impact postponing dreams has on African Americans and reveal what they have to endure. The crusty accumulation also symbolizes the destructive effects this waiting period may have on the possibility to fulfill the goals. Even though the second stanza is not a question, it also depicts a desperate situation: “Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load” (9-10). Even the speaker does not seem to know the outcome, but the heavy load expresses the difficulty of the situation of African Americans who cannot fulfill their goals. The last stanza is a question, and instead of a simile it is a metaphor: “Or does it explode?” (11) An explosion refers to a serious destruction that may be fatal. This final image conveys a desperate and hopeless situation postponing dreams puts African Americans in.