Putting Your Dream On A Shelf: Langston Hughes' "Harlem"

1255 words - 5 pages

Langston Hughes’s “Harlem”, or “Dream Deferred”, is a poem that talks about what happens when one postpones a dream. It consists of a series of similes and ends with a metaphor. The speaker’s objective is to get the reader to think about what happens to a dream that is put off, postponed; what happens when each person creates their very own shelve of dreams? The “dream” refers to a goal in life, not the dreams that one has while sleeping, but one’s deepest desires. There are many ways to understand this poem varying from person to person. Some may see this poem as talking about just dreams in general. Others may see it as African-American’s dreams.
The reason I say African American’s dreams is because the author published this poem in 1951, the time period where there was much racism and civil rights violations against African Americans. Another reason is that the author is an African American himself. Finally, the biggest reason is that the author named the poem “Harlem.” Harlem is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan, long known as a major African-American cultural and business center. It was associated for much of the twentieth century with black culture, crime and poverty. It is the capital of African-American life in the United States. The author named this poem “Harlem” because he was addressing mainly the black community. Still, the speaker’s position is very clear: if one postpones his/her dream(s) it can have a damaging affects.
People always say that first impressions are very important and what people remember most because it is usually what makes one like or dislike someone or something. This poem aids that saying. The first time I read this poem, the first line caught my attention right away: “What happens to a dream deferred?” That was the first time I had ever seen, heard or thought that question. This line helps give meaning to the poem because right away it gets the reader to think about that statement for a moment before they continue reading the poem.
The questions in this poem are all rhetorical questions because they answer themselves. The first and second stanzas uses similes: “like a raisin in the sun,” “fester like a sore,” “stink like rotten meat,” “like a syrupy sweet” and “sags like a heavy load.” The last stanza ends uses a metaphor: “does it explode.” Imagery is very important in literature because it gets the reader to visualize what they are reading, become part of it and understand it more. This poem uses imagery: “raisin in the sun,” “stink like rotten meat,” etc. The poem also uses rhyme: sun-run, meat-sweet, load-explode.
When a raisin is left out in the sun to dry it bakes, hardens and becomes impossible to eat. It losses its value and purpose and can no longer go back to its original state. The first simile in the poem says: “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun.” First of all a raisin is a dried up grape. Yet, it is still a good and nutritious thing. But when the these things...

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