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Harlem (Dream Deferred)

Harlem (Dream Deferred)

by Langston Hughes

Violence and Oppression

Symbol Analysis

Our speaker hints at an underbelly to the world of dreams. When dreams are ignored, our speaker argues that the consequences can be really bad (even dangerous). Because of the time in which this poem was written (the birth of the Civil Rights Movement), we know that the act of pursuing one's dreams was an act that not everyone in America was allowed to do.

  • Line 4: Our speaker uses the image of a festering sore as he considers the consequences of deferred dreams.
  • Line 6: The image of rotten meat is not a pleasant one, and it's one that reminds our sense of smell of things from the past.
  • Line 9-10: Again, our speaker harnesses the power of imagery as he wonders whether deferred dreams sag like a heavy load. This image makes us think of hard work and exhaustion. It also makes us think of someone who has to carry such a load all by himself/herself without anybody's help, something that doesn't seem fair.
  • Line 11: Our speaker uses metaphor as he concludes this poem, wondering whether dreams "explode." The verb "explode" makes us think of bombs and fireworks and things that can no longer contain themselves.

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