Unfulfilled Dreams Exposed in Hughes's Harlem
Most of us have dreams that we one day hope to fulfill. They could be little dreams that will take little time and effort to accomplish, or they could be big dreams that will take more time and energy to fulfill. Nevertheless, "whether one's dream is as mundane as hitting the numbers or as noble as hoping to see one's children reared properly," each dream is equally important to the person who has it (Bizot 904). Each dream is also equally painful when it is taken away; or if we never have the opportunity to make the dream a reality. In the poem "Harlem" by Langston Hughes, the different emotions that people feel when a dream is "deferred" is presented through Hughes's unique style, language use, and imagery.
The poem "Harlem," originally printed in the book Montage of a Dream Deferred, is only a small part of an extremely long poem within the book. One critic calls the book a "commentary on the unrest and anxiety of post war black America," and "Harlem" does just that (Farrell 221). Hughes has a very unique way of describing the different types of people who inhabit the city of Harlem. Because of his unique style this poem is "known widely and cherished among blacks for . . . [its] special insight into the African American condition" (Rampersad 200).
Something that adds to Hughes's uniqueness is his "almost ruthless exclusion of extraneous embellishments, resulting in a lean, spare, and uncluttered style" (Jemie 220). Another reason that Hughes has stayed so popular is that his work transcends time because, according to Arthur P. Davis, "he is expressing the feelings of Negroes in black ghettos throughout America" (903). People living in Harlem today, or in any other urban area, can relate to his poetry.
To understand the emotions Hughes is trying to describe, we first have to understand the meaning of the words he uses. For some of the words, he uses the dictionary meaning, yet for others he uses the connotative meaning. When Hughes uses a word connotatively, he wants the reader to receive a deeper meaning than the dictionary definition would give. For example, the word "deferred" in "Harlem" means unfulfilled. The dictionary meaning, however, is "to postpone." In the dictionary, "postpone" means "will happen at a later date or time." However, the dreams that Hughes refers to are ones that will never come true.
Hughes also uses the connotative meaning for the word "fester" (line 4). The dictionary meaning is "to form pus," yet this definition does not seem strong enough for the emotion the word is trying to express. The word "fester" in the poem means to become a source of pain or anger. This is exactly what becomes of a person's "deferred" dream. It becomes painful because that dream never leaves the person's mind. The person might forget about it for a little while and go on with his or her life, but like most painful memories, it will pop...