Study Guide

Harlem (Dream Deferred) Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

By Langston Hughes

Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

What happens to a dream deferred? (1)

Why doesn't our speaker ask about a deferred dream instead of dream deferred? What happens to the line when the word "deferred" becomes the caboose?

Does it dry up (2)

If a dream were to dry up, it would lose its luster, it would lose the juice of imagination and hope. Notice how simple this line is, and how each word is contains only one syllable, as though the words themselves have dried up a wee bit.

Does it stink like rotten meat? (6)

When dreams are ignored, maybe they don't just go away quietly. Maybe they find a way to remind you that you are ignoring them. You can't just forget about rotten meat. It will make sure you think about it. Unlike raisins that dry in the sun, meat rots in a way that makes you have to take action.

Or crust and sugar over – (7)

Things crust or sugar over when we neglect them. You know, like when we forget to put the cap back on the honey jar, or when we forget to put things away properly. This simile is interesting, because it makes us think that dreams can last (even you don't act on them) as long as they are properly cared for, properly stowed away. But what does it mean to take care of dreams?

Maybe it just sags (9)

The verb "to sag" makes us think of weight, and lots of it. Why would dreams be associated with weight? Maybe because they are so important and carry a lots of our emotions. Maybe we pack dreams like suitcases, and they grow heavier and heavier over the years until we have to sit on them to zip them up.

Or does it explode? (11)

We don't know what it would mean if a dream were to explode. Would there be little pieces of dreamstuff scattered about like confetti? Would the fire department come? Man, if this is the case, dreams are kind of dangerous.