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Destiny of a Dream Deferred: "Harlem" by Langston Hughes

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Langston Hughes’s poem ‘Harlem’ sometimes called A Dream Deferred, explores the consequences of allowing a dream to go unfulfilled. The title of the poem, ‘Harlem’, implies that the dream is one that has been kept from the people. Hughes titled this poem ‘Harlem’ after the New York neighborhood that became the center of the Harlem Renaissance, a major creative blast in melody, literature, and artwork that happened during the 1910s and 1920s. Many African African families saw Harlem as a sanctuary from the frequent discrimination they faced in other parts of the country. The dream is of social equality and civil right. The persona of the poem is a person who once had a lot of very important dreams and hoped to fulfill all of them at some point in life. The speaker of ‘Harlem’ is an African American who is stressed with having his dream delayed and who senses a growing tension in a society that stops the dreams of a group of its citizens. However, the dreams were not fulfilled for some reason, and be asked what should happen to the dreams. ’What happens to a dream deferred?’ (Langston Hughes). The writer uses abridged diction to show feelings. For example, the statement stink like rotten meat is used to show how disturbing and uncomfortable unfulfilled dreams make someone, drag them down, and make them feel useless. When focusing on the role of socio-political context, many African Americans were discomfited with the lack of opportunities open to them as the united state struggled to transform itself from a rural to an urban community. There was a significant uneven between the oath of United State democracy and its actuality. The racial prejudice angered them and the violence they often encountered. The limitation that the white-dominated had a place we fully understood by a large, better-educated urban population. As African Americans became more and more disillusioned about accomplishing the justice that wartime rhetoric had seemed to promise, many determined to follow their goals of equivalence and success more aggressively than ever before. Harlem Renaissance was helped by several organized political and economic movements in this post-war period. A new sense of empowerment in the African American residents is created by these motions.

During this time, African Americans saw the chance to invent a new identity for themselves within this creative output, two ideologies were dominant. The first represented by Du Bols, James Weldon Johnson of the NAACP, and others viewed the arts as an area where gifted and culturally privileged African Americans could lead their race’s fight for equality. They wanted their cultural heritage and experience, proving the beauty of their race and its critical contribution to American culture as a whole to be drawn by artists. Artistic success, they believed that they will not only foster pride in the African American society but also prove to the whites that blacks were their equals. The Great Depression slowed the Harlem Renaissance mainly due to the loss of patronage from white supporters. Influential journals of the time, including the National Urban League’s opportunity and the NAACP’S. The crisis also reduced their financial support of African American artists, and some artists moved on to other artistic opportunities outside of Harlem. This short poem is one of Hughes’s most famous works, it is likely the most ordinary Langston Hughes poem taught in American schools. Hughes wrote ‘Harlem’ in 1965, and addresses one of his most ordinary themes-the limitations of the American Dream for African Americans. In the early 1950s, America was still racially isolated. African Americans have been saddled the legacy of slavery, which essentially rendered them, second-class citizens, in the eye of the law, particularly in the south. The culmination of the time of slavery led in a new generation of African Americans who were eager to attain cultural self-determination, economic, and political fairness, and active participation in civic duties. The change was bubbling up, however, Hughes wrote ‘Harlem’ only three years before the seminal supreme court decision in the 1954 case Brown vs Board of Education that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students top be unconstitutional. Therefore, Hughes was intimately watchful of the challenges he faced as a black man in America, and the tone of his work reflects his difficult experience: He can come across as sympathetic, enraged, hopeful, wistful, or quit.

The speaker talks about the destiny of a ‘dream deferred’. We are not sure who the speaker is in this poem but maybe it might be the poet, might be a professor, or might be a black person. There is a question that is powerful and there is a sense of quietness that follows. The image of a delayed dram was evoked by Hughes. He thinks about it drying up, festering, stinking, crusting over, or exploding. Each of these pictures, while not outright violent, has a little dark tone to them. These dismissed dreams were potent enough to make the reader smell, taste, and feel. According to Langston Hughes, a dismissed dream undergoes evolution, approaching a physical state of decay, but does not simply become invisible. The speaker does not refer to a specific dream, rather heshe suggest that African American cannot dream to aspire to great things because of the environment of oppression that surrounds them. Even if they do dare to dream their extensive plans will fester for so long that they end up rotting or even exploding. As critic Arthur P Davis writes, ‘when Hughes portrays the hopes, the aspirations, the frustrations and the deep-seated discontent of the New York ghetto, he is expressing the feelings of Negroes in black ghettos throughout American’(Langston Hughes). Hughes uses different figurative language to create vivid imagery in the poem to suggest just what might happen as a result of being denied that dream. A simile is one of type of figurative language used in the poem. A simile uses the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ to compare two things, and a line of similes is used in the poem to compare a dream deferred to rotting, aging or burdensome items. A dream deferred is compared to a raisin, a sore, rotten meat, a syrupy sweet, and a heavy load. The actions linked to these items suggest what might happen to the dream, such as rotting and dying or weighing down the conscience of the people. The poet uses a metaphor that compares two things without using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’. The poem ends with a single metaphor with the line ‘Or does it explode?’ The text is also telling this metaphor even more. The metaphor compares a dream deferred to a bomb. The momentum for the dream may continue to build and finally explode because there is nowhere to go. Alternately, the dreamer’s anger may cause the dream to explode into action. There are many other examples of figurative language that are found throughout the poem helping to reinforce the vivid imagery. The ongoing use of the expression ‘Does it’ is an example of anaphora, which is the repetition of a word or phrase at the start of a series of sentences, phrases, or clauses. Used here, anaphora helps to underscore the question and to make a sense of urgency around it. Alliteration, or the repetition of consonant sounds, is found in the ‘sound in’ what happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up’ The use of alliteration helps create rhythm, and it emphasizes the words, drawing attention to ideas in them. The final line uses hyperbole, or deliberate exaggeration, to underscore the severity of the potential consequences of denying the dream of social equality.

To sum up, everything that has been stated so far, the Harlem Renaissance was very important because it changed the way African Americans were described. The poet talks about the fate of the black American dream that is fading away, especially the black American while white is privileged. He wanted to know if exploded violently or dried up. However, Hughes appears to the perspective of a hopeless person living in Harlem. He also emphasizes how the people of Harlem are being mistreated and taken as second citizens. More he also saw that the lives and dreams of many black Americans are destroyed. The Harlem Renaissance created a new culture that white Americans wanted to see was happening in Harlem and wondering what this new culture was nad because of migration of the south to the north it made the Harlem Renaissance even strong.


  1. Hull, G.T. and Hull, A,G., 187. Color, sex & Poetry:three women writers of Harlem Renaissance. Indiana University Press.
  2. Myers, W.D., Davis, O and Dee, R., 1997. Harlem:A poem. Scholastic Press.
  3. Jones, MD., 2011. The muse is music: Jazz poetry from the Harlem Renaissance to spoken word(Vol. 137). University of lllinoois Press.
  4. Wall, C.A., 1995. Women of the Harlem renaissance. Indiana University Press.
  5. Bloom, H. ed., 2004. The Harlem Renaissance. Infobase Publishing.
  6. https:www.gradesaver.comlangston-hughes-poemsstudy-guidesummary-harlem
  7. https:owlcation.comhumanitiesanalysis-of-poem-Harlem-what-Happiness-to-a-Dream-Deferred-by-Langston-Hughes
  8. https:www.leaner.orgseriesessential-lens-analyzing-photographs-across-the-curriculumplace-culture-and-representation-the-art-and-politicks-of-the-harlem-renaissance
  9. https:www.123helpme.comessayLangston-Hughes-Dream-Deferred-Analysis-547210

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