Elements of Poetry in Harlem by Langston Hughes

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About this sample


Words: 665 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Jun 13, 2024

Words: 665|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Jun 13, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Imagery
  2. Similes
  3. Allusions
  4. Conclusion
  5. Bibliography

Langston Hughes, one of the most celebrated poets of the Harlem Renaissance, used various literary devices in his poem "Harlem" to convey the complexities of the African American experience during the early 20th century. Through the use of vivid imagery, similes, and allusions, Hughes captures the frustration, hope, and dreams of the people living in Harlem. This essay will explore the different elements of poetry used in "Harlem" and analyze their significance in conveying the overall message of the poem.

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One of the key literary devices employed by Hughes in "Harlem" is imagery. From the very beginning of the poem, Hughes paints a vivid picture of a decaying neighborhood when he asks, "What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?" (lines 1-3). This powerful imagery of a dried-up raisin suggests the withering away of dreams and the potential loss of hope. Throughout the poem, Hughes continues to use visual and sensory details to depict the struggles faced by the African American community in Harlem.

In the lines, "Or fester like a sore— / And then run?" (lines 4-5), Hughes uses the imagery of a festering sore to illustrate the consequences of unfulfilled dreams. The image of a sore implies pain, infection, and a potentially explosive outcome. This vivid description serves to emphasize the pent-up frustration and anger that can result from the suppression of dreams.

Furthermore, in the lines, "Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load" (lines 6-7), Hughes uses the image of a sagging load to represent the weight of unfulfilled dreams on the individual. This imagery evokes a sense of heaviness and burden, suggesting the emotional toll that unattained aspirations can have on a person's spirit.


In addition to imagery, Hughes employs similes in "Harlem" to enhance the reader's understanding of the experiences and emotions expressed in the poem. By comparing the deferred dreams to various objects, Hughes creates a clearer picture of their impact.

For instance, in the lines, "Or does it explode?" (line 11), Hughes uses a simile to compare a deferred dream to an explosive device. This simile suggests that unfulfilled dreams can have a powerful and potentially destructive effect. By using this powerful image, Hughes emphasizes the urgent need for the African American community to address and overcome the obstacles that prevent their dreams from being realized.


Hughes also incorporates allusions in "Harlem" to evoke a deeper understanding of the historical and cultural context in which the poem is set. For example, when he refers to "raisins in the sun" (line 2), it alludes to the play "A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry, which explores the dreams and struggles of an African American family in Chicago. By referencing this play, Hughes draws attention to the universality of deferred dreams and the common experiences shared by African Americans across different cities and time periods.

Additionally, the line "Does it stink like rotten meat?" (line 8) alludes to the oppressive social conditions faced by African Americans, particularly in terms of racial discrimination and inequality. The reference to the foul smell of rotten meat suggests the dehumanizing effects of these conditions and the need to address the systemic issues that hinder progress and equality.


In conclusion, Langston Hughes masterfully employs various literary devices such as imagery, similes, and allusions in his poem "Harlem" to convey the complexities of the African American experience during the Harlem Renaissance. Through vivid imagery, Hughes paints a vivid picture of the struggles, frustrations, and hopes of the people living in Harlem. Similes are used to enhance the reader's understanding of the emotional impact of unfulfilled dreams, while allusions provide a deeper historical and cultural context. "Harlem" serves as a powerful reminder of the need to address social and racial inequalities, and the importance of pursuing dreams and aspirations despite the obstacles faced. Hughes' poetic devices not only make the poem engaging and thought-provoking, but also contribute to its lasting impact on readers.

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Hughes, Langston. "Harlem." Poetry Foundation, Accessed 10 May 2022.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Elements of Poetry in Harlem by Langston Hughes. (2024, Jun 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 24, 2024, from
“Elements of Poetry in Harlem by Langston Hughes.” GradesFixer, 13 Jun. 2024,
Elements of Poetry in Harlem by Langston Hughes. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Jul. 2024].
Elements of Poetry in Harlem by Langston Hughes [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 13 [cited 2024 Jul 24]. Available from:
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