The poem begins by introducing the limitations of the African Americans’ hopes and dreams in the form of a question. Hughes asks, “What happens to a dream deferred” (1). Here, the dream refers to the African Americans’ yearning for equality and freedom, and Hughes wants to examine what happens when that dream is persistently pushed aside. The spacing directly after this line conjures a sense of silence as if allowing a moment to contemplate the question. The lines following this question explore several possible outcomes, and each answer represents the ruin of a forgotten dream.
Each outcome brought up by Hughes evokes a potent physical response, allowing the images to be felt, smelled, and tasted. The first question Hughes asks is, “Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun” (2-3). The grape’s evolution into a raisin is a slow, gradual process. By cutting the grape directly from the vine, it is left to wither without any sustenance. The deterioration goes almost unnoticed by the average person. By calling the dream a raisin, it implies that the dream once had enormous potential like a grape. Though a raisin may taste okay, it doesn’t compare to the succulent taste of...
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...ad enough of being pushed to the side that they just explode with a powerful response and turn their dreams into a reality. People are rising finally rising up and taking matters into their own hands. Conversely, the explosion could symbolize defeat. Once something has exploded, it is impossible to fully recover. The slow, gradual process of the dream being ignored causes the African-American community to erupt in anguish. The explosion marks a point where the dream becomes entirely useless; there is no hope in saving the dream. Their only option is to simply move on and create a new dream.
Throughout “Harlem [Dream Deferred]”, Hughes explores conflicting ideas as a way to symbolize the struggles faced by the African-American community. The dream undergoes a metamorphosis until it eventually explodes, bringing about either pain or a united response from the public.
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