Hughes' Harlem - A Dream Deferred
Sometimes his poetry is simplistic and degenerates into a nothing more than whining, but other times he waxes quite profound, and in all cases he is worth studying. A poem that students often encounter in their classes is “Harlem: A Dream Deferred,” from his Montage of a Dream Deferred. The following discussion analyzes Hughes’ “Harlem: A Dream Deferred” in terms of theme and literary devices; then it offers a commentary to help the student understand some of the subtle features of the poem: Theme:
Having to postpone one’s deepest desires can lead to destruction. Literary devices:
The questions are all rhetorical questions, because they intend to answer themselves. Each question in the first stanza uses simile: “like a raisin in the sun,” “like a sore,”like rotten meat,” “like a syrupy sweet.” The second stanza which is not a question but a suggestion also uses simile “like a heavy load.” The last stanza uses metaphor, “does it explode?” The poem employs rime: sun-run, meat-sweet, load-explode.
The poem also uses imagery: “raisin in the sun,” “fester like a sore— / And then run,” “stink like rotten meat,” etc. Commentary:
The question, “What happens to a dream deferred?” appears to be answered with nothing but more questions. But if we analyze each question we get an idea of what the speaker really believes about dreams being postponed. The “dream” is a goal in life, not just dreams experienced during sleep. The dream is important to the dreamer’s life. But what dream is it exactly? The poem does not choose the dream but leaves it up to the reader. Nevertheless, the speaker’s position is clear that any important dream or goal that must be delayed can have serious negative affects. As we look at each question we find out what those affects are. With each question the speaker offers a possibility of each negative affect. The first one “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun”: a raisin is already dry, and as a raisin, it is...
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