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"Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes
Transcript of "Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes
by Langston Hughes SPEAKER: Bio of Langston Hughes:
In the 1920's and 1930's, a young writer named Langston Hughes was at the forefront of an explosion of creativity in literature and the arts known as the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes had a long career as an accomplished writer. He wrote poetry, short stories, children's books and even an opera. His poems often echo the rhythms of jazz. THEME:
Having to postpone one’s deepest desires can lead to destruction. 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? OCCASION
In 1951, the year of the poem's publication frustration characterized the mood of American blacks. The Civil War in the previous century had liberated them from slavery, and federal laws had granted them the right to vote, the right to own property, and so on. However, continuing prejudice against blacks, as well as lawspassed since the Civil War, relegated them to second-class citizenship. Consequently, blacks had to attend poorly equipped segregated schools and settle for menial jobs as porters, ditch-diggers, servants, shoeshine boys, and so on. In many states, blacks could not use the same public facilities as whites, including restrooms, restaurants, theaters, and parks. Access to other facilities, such as buses, required them to take a back seat, literally, to whites.
Audience: The American People, African Americans, All People Purpose: Pursuade people to
not allow their dreams to fade Purpose: By the mid-Twentieth Century, their frustration with inferior status became a powder keg, and the fuse was burning. Hughes well understood what the future held, as he indicates in the last line of the poem. Tone: Inspirational / Motivating
A Call to Action Subject: In “Dream Deferred," Hughes asks a very important question about dreams and about what happens when dreams are ignored or postponed. Hughes saw the dreams of many residents of Harlem, New York crumble in the wake of World War II. Some read this poem as a warning, believing that the speaker argues that deferred dreams will lead to social unrest. Harlem (Dream Deferred) Summary
The speaker asks what happens if dreams are postponed or put on hold. He offers some possible answers to the question. He wonders if these postponed dreams dry up like raisins in the sun. He wonders if they fester like sores. He wonders if they rot like meat or get all crusty, like sugary syrup left out in the open air. He suggests postponed dreams sag like a heavy load. And, finally, he wonders whether dreams explode if they are postponed. There's something about this last line that makes us think it is really the answer to his first question.
TONE: INSPIRATIONAL, MOTIVATING
A CALL TO ACTION!! Why Should We Care? As Otis Redding used to sing, "I've got dreams, dreams, dreams to remember." We've all got dreams, and Langston Hughes turns on the floodlights and points them directly at the idea of dreams. Sometimes it's easy to rely on wishy-washy words when talking about our dreams, but instead of going all sappy on us, Langston Hughes puts ground underneath the idea of dreams, and compares them to very concrete things in our everyday lives. Sure, we personally might not immediately liken dreams to raisins, festering sores, rotting meat, and heavy loads, but through this poem, our speaker wants us to understand the reality of dreaming and the danger of not acting upon our dreams. There's a danger to thinking about dreams too abstractly. Our speaker wants us to consider dreams to be as real as flesh and as vital as food. Dreams don't dwell in the cloud palaces. Dreams crawl on the earth, and, if they are not cared for or acted upon, they'll haunt us. Through this poem, we are reminded of the importance of doing (rather than thinking) when it comes to dreams. It's no wonder Nike used Hughes's poem in one of their ad campaigns (featuring Sanya Richards and Danny Glover). Don't let your dreams sit around gathering dust, just do it.
Notably, Lorraine Hansberry chose a line from this poem as the title of her famous play,A Raisin in the Sun, which explores the idea of delayed dreams in the world of a black family living in the South Side of Chicago during the1950s. Both the play and Hughes's poem champion the power of pursuing dreams, and both comment on the state ofcivil rights in America.
1...deferred: Postponed, put off.
2...raisin: A dried, sweet grape. The grape is dried by the sun or by a dehydrator.
3...fester: develop pus; ulcerate.