Harlem, An Analysis of a Langston Hughes Poem Essay
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Harlem, An Analysis of a Langston Hughes Poem
The short but inspirational poem "Harlem" by Langston Hughes addresses what happens to aspirations that are postponed or lost. The brief, mind provoking questions posed throughout the poem allow the readers to reflect--on the effects of delaying our dreams. In addition, the questions give indications about Hughes' views on deferred dreams.
"Harlem" is an open form poem. The poem consists of three stanzas that do not have a regular meter. To catch the reader's attention, the writer made sure that specific words and questions stood out. As a result, the lengths of the lines vary and certain syllables are stressed in every line. The first line in the poem: is the longest…show more content…
The last line, "Or does it explode?" (11) is an example of a metaphor. The writer implies that a postponed dream--destroys, causes a violent or even disturbing emotional reaction.
Langston Hughes was a successful African-American poet of the Harlem renaissance in the 20th century. Hughes' had a simple and cultured writing style. "Harlem" is filled with rhythm, jazz, blues, imagery, and evokes vivid images within the mind. The poem focuses on what could happen to deferred dreams. Hughes' aim is to make it clear that if you postpone your dreams you might not get another chance to attain it--so take those dreams and run. Each question associates with negative effects of deferred dreams. The imagery from the poem causes the reader to be pulled in by the writer's words.
The speaker opens the poem by questioning, "What happens to a dream deferred?" (1). This single line instantly gives the reader an idea of what the poem is about. The first question produces curiosity in the reader--makes the reader want to find the answer to the question.
"Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?" (2-3). suggest that a postponed dream will eventually be forgotten or fizzled out. The image of a raisin stimulates the reader's sight and taste senses. The dream is like a sweet grape which is fresh and new. If you set that grape aside (in hopes of coming back to it later) it most likely will be bitter, dried out, kaput, and
The speaker wonders what happens to a deferred dream. He wonders if it dries up like a raisin in the sun, or if it oozes like a wound and then runs. It might smell like rotten meat or develop a sugary crust. It might just sag like a “heavy load,” or it might explode.
This short poem is one of Hughes’s most famous works; it is likely the most common Langston Hughes poem taught in American schools. Hughes wrote "Harlem" in 1951, and it addresses one of his most common themes - the limitations of the American Dream for African Americans. The poem has eleven short lines in four stanzas, and all but one line are questions.
Playwright Lorraine Hansbury references "Harlem" in the title of A Raisin in the Sun, her famous play about an African American family facing prejudice and economic hardship. The production debuted on Broadway in 1959, only 8 years after Hughes published "Harlem."
In the early 1950s, America was still racially segregated. African Americans were saddled with the legacy of slavery, which essentially rendered them second-class citizens in the eyes of the law, particularly in the South. 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. Thus, Hughes was intimately aware of the challenges he faced as a black man in America, and the tone of his work reflects his complicated experience: he can come across as sympathetic, enraged, hopeful, melancholy, or resigned.
Hughes titled this poem “Harlem” after the New York neighborhood that became the center of the Harlem Renaissance, a major creative explosion in music, literature, and art that occurred during the 1910s and 1920s. Many African American families saw Harlem as a sanctuary from the frequent discrimination they faced in other parts of the country. Unfortunately, Harlem’s glamour faded at the beginning of the 1930s when the Great Depression set in - leaving many of the African American families who had prospered in Harlem destitute once more.
The speaker muses about the fate of a “dream deferred.” It is not entirely clear who the speaker is –perhaps the poet, perhaps a professor, perhaps an undefined black man or woman. The question is a powerful one, and there is a sense of silence after it. Hughes then uses vivid analogies to evoke the image of a postponed dream. He imagines it drying up, festering, stinking, crusting over, or, finally, exploding. All of these images, while not outright violent, have a slightly dark tone to them. Each image is potent enough to make the reader smell, feel, and taste these discarded dreams. According to Langston Hughes, a discarded dream does not simply vanish, rather, it undergoes an evolution, approaching a physical state of decay.
The speaker does not refer to a specific dream. Rather, he (or she) suggests that African Americans cannot dream or aspire to great things because of the environment of oppression that surrounds them. Even if they do dare to dream - their grand plans will fester for so long that they end up rotting or even exploding. As critic Arthur P. Davis writes, "When [Hughes] depicts 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 America."