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Langston Hughes wrote the short poem "Harlem(A Dream Deferred)" from 1901 to 1967. Hughes played a significant role in the 1920s New York Harlem Renaissance. Throughout the span of a changed vocation, he was a writer, dramatist, social lobbyist, and columnist, however, it is for his verse that Hughes is currently best recollected.

It may not come as a surprise that Langston Hughes decided to write a poem about Harlem considering how important he was to the Harlem Renaissance. However, what does his 11-line lyric about Harlem mean? The poem can be read here.

‘Harlem’: Summary

The sonnet is organized into four verses: The first and last of these only have one line between them; the second has seven lines and the third has two.

The poem's speaker asks several questions. He begins by asking, "What happens to a dream that is deferred?" This refers to an ambition or dream that never materializes. Is it shriveling and losing something of itself, like a raisin in the sun? Or does it become gross and infected, similar to a body sore that leaks pus? And does the dream itself have the stench of decaying flesh? Then, like a boiled sweet, he wonders if the dream might develop a hard "crust" of sugar.

The speaker departs from the interrogative style of questioning in the third stanza and muses aloud: The dream might simply become weaker, like a heavy burden being carried, instead of these things. The speaker returns to the interrogative mode in the final stanza, which is another standalone line that is italicized for additional emphasis: He wonders if this "dream deferred" might actually explode, like in a righteous rage or frustration.

‘Harlem’: analysis

"I, Too," one of Langston Hughes' most well-known poems, is frequently described as a protest poem. However, it is also a poem of celebration, and one of the things that a student or critic of Hughes' poem should think about is how these two sides of the poem are kept in careful balance.

Focusing on the New York neighborhood known for its large African-American population and culture, "Harlem" is more clearly and emphatically a poem of protest than of celebration. Hughes took Walt Whitman's famous lines from his poem "I Hear America Singing" from the nineteenth century and added his own voice to the chorus in "I, Too." This included the voices of all African Americans.

But in "Harlem," he takes up the American Dream, which is the idea or belief that anyone, regardless of their background, can succeed in life if they move to the United States. Is this really the case for African Americans, or are they confronted with an excessive amount of prejudice and impediments while attempting to make their way in America?

The fact that the opening line of "Harlem" makes reference to "a dream deferred" suggests that this short poem is comparable to a much longer, book-length poem that Hughes published in 1951. As Hughes takes us on a 24-hour tour of his own Harlem in New York, the rhythms and styles of jazz music influenced that longer work, Montage of a Dream Deferred.

The poem's central theme is the dream, a favorite Langston Hughes trope that plays on the real world with the ideal. Be that as it may, his 'fantasy conceded' is likewise reviewing the Pursuit of happiness, and investigating the significance of this ideal for African Americans.

In "Harlem," Hughes uses a variety of metaphors and images to convey his conflicted feelings regarding this dream. The speaker is of the opinion that African Americans are being left behind, despite the fact that other Americans are able to climb the socioeconomic ladder and achieve success for themselves and their families.

However, the images are not all identical. We are shown rotten meat and infected wounds, but the speaker then suggests the sugared coating of a boiled sweet: overall, a more appealing image. So, what's the point of this picture?

The meaning of Hughes' simile lies in the concept of "sugar-coating" something to make it more palatable and acceptable: dark Americans are sold the possibility of the 'Pursuit of happiness' to keep them content with the state of affairs and to give the deception that everybody in the US has equivalent open doors. However, that is all it is: the sugar that covers up something that doesn't look or taste good, like the less-than-pleasant truth.

In the same way as other of Langston Hughes' sonnets, 'Harlem' is written in the free refrain, its unpredictable line lengths and flighty rhythms reminiscent of jazz music, which meant quite a bit to the way of life and nightlife of Harlem. However, Hughes does use rhyme, so it is not entirely free verse: Sun/Run, Meat/Sweet, and Explode/Load (notice how "explode" carries that "load" and contains it).

The last line of "Harlem" suggests that African Americans' anger may explode into an explosion of energy and rage if they continue to live in the stifling poverty, mistreatment, and lack of opportunities they are currently experiencing.

In some ways, Hughes' poem is prophetic in that it foretells how the American Civil Rights movement would gain momentum in the 1950s and how figures like Malcolm X would use radical anger, rather than Martin Luther King's less combative approach, to inspire black Americans to demand a better life.



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