A Dream Deferred

A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes: Analysis and Meaning

Do you have a dream? We all have dreams, not the one that we see when we are asleep but the one that excites us to live our life, the one that motivates us to become a better person, and to work hard.

But, what shall we do if that dream that you had is not there anymore? Not literally but things that inspired you once and the passion you had is no longer there. A dream that you once had is delayed.

Harlem (also known as Dream Deferred) is a poem written by Langston Hughes where he uses a simile to compare what and how a deferred dream feels like. And what baggage do we carry after that unfinished goal that we always had.

The dream of the poet is equality, because Hughes had a very complex ancestry and even though America was slave free for ninety years, it was still white- dominated.

His works were not recognised all over in the society as it was in Harlem just because of the colour of his skin. This poem simply yet profoundly reveals the feelings of the poet.

Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?
-Langston Hughes

Summary and Meaning

Harlem (Dream Deferred) by Langston Hughes describes a dream that was postponed. The reasons are left uncertain as to why the dream was left off, but the poet makes sure to put our feelings into words and describe how a deferred dream feels like.

The poem poses a question about the goals of a person and the consequences that one might face if those goals are left unachieved. 

The poet actually wrote the poem where he describes what he felt like as a black man while choosing a career path and the problems that he had to go through in his personal life in a white- dominated world.

He poses a question to the readers about what happened to the dream that we once had which is now deferred. He uses several food items to compare with the deferred dream. 

It feels like a dried up raisin, like a wound in the body which festers and oozes, like a sugar syrup that has become crusty. But it weighs on our back, like a heavy bag which we carry throughout our life. But then at the end the poet poses another question, which implies that the poet himself does not have any answer to the previous question.

Analysis of the Poem 

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

 The first line of the poem poses a rhetorical question to the readers and then starts giving examples of how it must feel. He compares it to a dried up raisin in the sun, a fruit  which was once juicy and nutritious is now dried up and useless.

This implies that the dream which was full of life once is now dead. Another comparison is with a wound on the body which festers and oozes, which left unchecked or unattended can in fact turn bad or affect the health. 

The meat which was once meant to be eaten is now beyond use, there is nothing left to be eaten and it stinks. Does a forgotten dream hit our senses just like rotten meat? Moreover, the poet has used the name of these food products in order to suggest the survival of the fittest in the race.

Or crust and sugar over–

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

The poet compares it to a sugar syrup which was once sweet and now it has stayed out for too long and become crusty. The dream was sweet once upon a time. It seems that people would become comfortable living in separate societies forming separate communities.

The color of the sugar syrup can also be counted as a reference to different communities. For example- fresh sugar syrup is sweet for everyone, but the moment it becomes crusty or brown it is left uneaten. 

The poet suggests that the unnecessary weight just sags and becomes a heavy load. A load which seems very heavy but cannot be put down because, in order to stand out you always need to have a strong reason.

The last line acts like a revealing  point of the poet’s feelings. How long does one have to wait for equality? His ancestors have been carrying the weight which was passed down to him but it has become intolerable now.

Exploding and stating his anger is the only option that is left right now for the society to treat them equally, but he is not sure of it. Thus he poses a question to the readers asking them whether he should express his feelings and dissatisfaction which he feels from the society or keeps quiet.

Themes

The theme of Harlem (A Dream Deferred) is dreams, equality, delay, sadness and hopelessness. The poem is about a dream that has been forgotten or delayed, and how it feels when the dream is not your dream anymore.

The poet had a dream of equality, passed on to him from his ancestors which ceases to exist anymore, not because the poet isn’t putting enough effort, but because the society chooses to ignore this dream.

We all have dreams, some dreams which are ignored by our parents sometimes or by society, and that ignorance makes us sad and hopeless. 

Similarly, the delay in achieving equality makes the poet sad and dissatisfied. He chooses a range of words to explain the grief that he feels. The dream does not actually end or die but rather it becomes like the dried up raisin, like stinking rotten meat, like a wound which festers, like a sugar syrup that becomes crusty.

All these things imply that the dream exists but is useless because it cannot be achieved anymore. The poet knows that it becomes like an unnecessary weight that we carry throughout our life, because it makes us strong.

But what shall you do if the dream of equality is not accepted by society? Why is it that the skin color matters so much that darker skin shades are considered inferior and dominated by the people with lighter skin shades?

If it is so then the poet wants to show the rage that he feels within, express the sadness that he feels because he is dissatisfied by the thinking of the people, sad because his work is not given much importance because he is African-American. 

At the end of the day, society needs to consider that we all pray to the same God, we all eat the same food, we all function the same and when we die we are buried the same, if God does not create differences then why should people?

Literary Devices

The literary devices used in the poem “Harlem(A Dream Deferred) include:

Simile– The poet uses simile to familiarize how deferred dreams feel. For example:

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Enjambment– The poet uses enjambment to express the delay in the dream of equality. For example:

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Personification– The poet personifies the dream in the poem. He calls it a delayed dream, and emphasizes on the importance of the dream to the people of his race.

Conclusion 

The poem “Harlem (Dream Deferred)”  is an eye-opener for all of us, because it hits a point of reality, stating what the African- American people went through. It seems that they asked for something very less, something which everyone deserves, something that is acceptable, then why weren’t they  given equal treatment is the question.

The poet did not have a dream which was selfish, he had a dream for his community. He wanted them to be treated and respected equally in society. He wanted the career path his community chooses to be given equal importance. But it was left like a dream after all.

Whether the dream has been achieved yet or not is still a question that we might ask from our society, the poet did not have any answer because he knew this dream would persist for ages and ages. The deferred dream is still a dream of many people today.

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