Langston Hughes short poem, “Harlem,” seeks to understand what happens to a dream when it is put on hold. Hughes uses vivid imagery and similes to make an effort to describe what the consequences are to a dream that is lost. He attempts to bring to the attention the life of a Negro and how so many dreams are put off to the side because of prejudice against African Americans. The tone, imagery, and diction of Langston Hughes poem, “Harlem,” will be discussed in this paper.
“Harlem” was written in 1951, which was around the time where prejudice against African Americans was still present (Cummings). Earlier, the civil war “had liberated them from slavery, and federal laws had granted them the right to vote, the right to own property, and so on” (Cummings). Although these civil rights were given to African Americans, prejudice continued to be a problem in society. They were put into poorly run segregated schools, given unskilled jobs, and were not allowed to use the same “public facilities” as white people (Cummings). This background information helps define the tone of the poem. The feeling of anger and frustration are conveyed through Hughes poem. Hughes was frustrated with the fact that their skin color was holding them back from pursuing their dreams. He asks a series of rhetorical questions to build up to the last line “Or does it explode?” (Hughes 691). This line sets the overall tone of the poem by describing the build up of the anger the blacks had toward the white oppression. Hughes final message of the poem is that this resentment they have held inside for so long will soon explode causing both political and social damage.
The use of imagery is prevalent throughout this poem. Hughes begins the poem by asking, “What happens to a dream deferred?” (690). From there he uses vivid imagery in the form of similes to paint a picture of someone’s dream that is wasting away. The images he uses touch on all five senses: sight, touch, smell,...
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