personal response to harlem by langston hughes

In 2011 a study was done and what they found was that approximately one out of every three Americans felt unfulfilled in life. With further research showing that most of the participants retained the feeling due to not living to their fullest potential, the conclusion can be made that not following your dreams can create some emotional distress. The poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes in 1951 projected a similar theory asking the question “What happens to a dream deferred?” After reading the poem I began to question a lot of the dreams I have had to push aside or forget about. As a fan of Langston Hughes I believe the poem is meant to create a positive image about creating a dream and pursuing that dream until it becomes reality.

The poem “Harlem” questions the consequences of a deferred dream. The idea of opening the poem with the question is, in my opinion a way to get the reader to think and create a connection to their own life. After reading this poem a few times, I began to look back at my life and realize all of the dreams and goals I’ve had to postpone or give up on. The important unseen part of this poem is that Hughes never specifies on the type of dreams being deferred. There may only be a small percentage of the world’s population who can truthfully say they have fully lived their dreams, and for the rest of the people at least once a dream has had to be pushed aside.

In the second and third lines of the poem the use of metaphors are introduced by asking “Does it dry u like a raisin in the sun?” The question itself paints a picture of a dream being forgotten about after being left outside in the sun. The image of a moment when the juice and life of the dream vanishes, sucked away and crumpled proposes a negative aspect to the forgotten dream. I feel as though Hughes is placing a metaphorical timeline on a dream that has just been developed. Even though some readers might not agree, the idea of having a select period of time in which the individual can fulfill each dream does make sense. In a specific instance of a child dreaming of becoming a doctor most will agree that the child needs to commit to a focus on education in order to get into medical school.

As the poem progresses the images and comparisons made evoke more emotion from the reader. The poem suggests that if the dream does not dry up it could “fester like a sore and then run.” The effects of an unfulfilled dreams could become frustrating and the external wound would be a constant reminder of the things you have not yet accomplished. In the twenty-six years I have been living, I have encountered more complications than most people my age and these issues have not allowed me to live out my dreams. I constantly find myself thinking of what I could have accomplished had I been provided with some consistency and security in life. I have always wanted to be a wealthy businessman due to the fact that I enjoy finance and because I love working with people. My forgotten dreams have taken a major psychological impact on my life by creating the thought that no matter how much effort gets put in the outcome will always be the same.

The harmful effects of not completing your dreams becomes more explicit as the poem continues. The speaker asks if the dream deferred stinks “like rotten meat.” It reinforces the previous idea that if you leave a dream unfulfilled long enough it will eventually begin to fester and rot like meat. The impression that a dream has the possibility to become rotten is a thought-provoking concept. In a sense the dream could begin to rot in the person’s mind or heart, which would cause them to become ill, or the rotting dream could begin to create a stench that refuses to be ignored. The odor of the rotting dream becomes a constant reminder of what could have been accomplished in life.

This poem has made me realize that I have my own rotting dreams that I have yet to clean up. When I was a freshman in high school I bought myself a 1966 Chevy Malibu, with the dreams of restoring the car and owning it my entire life. The car itself was in poor condition and was fairly cheap but I did not care, I spent countless hours sitting in and working on that car but in the end my step-mother kicked me out on my own and kept my car. Now that I am older I realize that the dream was not destroyed when she took my car because there will always be another car to restore and that realization is what keeps the rotting dream from making me sick.

Now that Hughes has described the foulness that can be a forgotten dream, the poem begins to talk about the lighter, but still damaging effects of not carrying out a dream. The speaker implies that if the dream does not begin to rot it could “crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet.” I thought this line was a very important piece of the poem because it imposes the thought of the forgotten dream forming a solid crust around it as if it was a protective shell. The longer the dream has been forgotten about the harder the crust becomes, making accomplishing the dream a great deal harder. This line hit close to my heart because I look at the pieces of my life that caused my dreams to become forgotten and it causes me to lose focus on the important things. The second stanza contains the line “Maybe it just sags like a heavy load?” This question seems to suggest the idea of the dream becoming heavier over time, which in turn weighs down the dreamer. The picture of a person carrying a heavy object shows the struggle of leaving a dream on your back that causes you to move through life with a sluggish pace. The fact that Hughes used the word “maybe” forces that this line is not a question but more of a personal suggestion.

This suggestion indicates that the dream could become hard to tolerate due to the mental uncertainty that could lead people to ask “what if” questions. The one and only question of “what if” can drive a person insane if asked long enough due to the fact that no matter what the individual does they cannot go back in time and redo the moment. The idea behind “what if” has gotten to the best of me when I think about losing my mother. My mother had not been a major part of my life because of her ways of living but in 2009 we reconnected and began talking. I was only given a few years to know my mother the way a son is supposed to but I know that If I keep asking myself the same question I will not be able to succeed in life, which is all my mother would have wanted. The last line in the poem asks the reader their opinion on the notion being that, if none of the previous questions affects happened, would the dream just “explode.” The last line provides a worst case scenario in which the dream is an explosive with a timer on it.

This explosion could potentially cause more damage to the person than if they had attempted to accomplish the dream and failed, due to the fact that it could never be pieced back together. If the deferred dream did explode it would be completely destroyed and all hope would be lost. This line is more powerful than the others because it has a deeper message behind it, which is in my opinion that a person must at least attempt to follow their dreams because if not the dream will only become destructive. This poem is incredibly complex and extremely well written because it can create an infinite amount of opinions from the different readers. As simple as it may seem to create a dream, fulfilling that dream can develop into lifelong battle. There are many different ways a dream can become deferred but in the opinion of Hughes there are only a few ways that dream go once pushed aside. When all is said and done, I believe it is the individual’s priority to create a dream and spend every chance they can on living out their dreams.

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