The poem Harlem (A Dream Deferred) is written by African-American Poet Langston Hughes at the time of the Harlem Renaissance. The poet talks about a dream which is deferred or delayed. The dream is that of equality and freedom for the African-Americans who have been discriminated against on the basis of their color in America for ages.
The poem consists of 11 lines and is an open verse. Though the poem has no specific stanzas, I have divided it into two parts to make it easier for you to understand it. In part 1 of the poem, the poet raises some rhetorical questions regarding a dream that has already been delayed and is yet to come true. In part 2, the poet shows a kind of hopelessness.
Part 1: A Dream Deferred
The poem begins with a direct question, What happens to a dream deferred? which is a poet’s direct question to probably Whites and his those belonging to his own race and even audience in general. The poet wonders what happens when a dream is delayed. The line reflects his pain because as his dream has not yet come true. In the next line, the poet, using similes, compares his Dream Deferred with a number of things that rot up because of delay like:
- a raisin in the sun: raisin means fruit juice; it dries up when kept in the sun for long (i.e. delayed)
- fester like a sore- And then run: meaning a pus that is formed in the body due to delay in treatment.
- stink like rotten meat: meat if kept for long starts giving bad smell or odor.
- crust and sugar over- like a syrupy sweet: sweets if kept for long also rot away.
Thus the poet is trying to convey that like all these things a dream if delayed can also suffer.
Part 2: Hope and Hopelessness
The poet shifts from rhetorical questions to a declarative statement. The Dream Deferred is now like a heavy and immovable load which symbolizes a sense of hopelessness. In the final line, the poet again raises rhetorical question Or does it explode? The line is italicised and shifts the tone. The poet fears that the dream which has been delayed since ages may explode or shatter away.