Harlem By Langston Hughes: Analysis & Overview

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  • 0:02 'Harlem' by Langston Hughes
  • 0:34 Context & Background
  • 1:19 Summary & Analysis
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

Langston Hughes was one of the most popular writers from 'The Harlem Renaissance,' a cultural period in the United States during the 1920s. 'Harlem' is one of Langston Hughes's most well-known poems, which you'll learn about in this lesson.

Harlem by Langston Hughes

At some point in our lives, we all have hopes and dreams for our future. Some people work hard to accomplish their dreams while others put their dreams on hold due to various circumstances in their lives. In the poem Harlem, Langston Hughes helps readers contemplate their dreams and what it means to postpone them. As such, the poem is often referred to as Dream Deferred. Let's take a look at some background information that might help with understanding the poem and then take a more in-depth look at each line.

Context & Background

Harlem was written in 1951 during a time when many blacks felt limited in their ability to achieve 'The American Dream.' Although the Civil War was long over and blacks technically had the right to vote, schools were still segregated and many blacks could only find basic jobs that didn't provide them with a future. Therefore, many of them had little hope that their futures could be different; many thought their dreams would always remain out of their grasp.

Lorraine Hansberry, an African American writer, used the poem Harlem as the basis for her popular play A Raisin in the Sun, which displayed the trials and tribulations of a poor African American family, struggling to overcome financial limitations and racial prejudice.

Summary and Analysis

Langston Hughes uses a literary element that compares two things, the simile, to help paint a mental picture of what it looks like to put off dreams. He opens the poem by asking readers what happens when dreams are deferred or put off. What happens to a dream deferred? The remainder of the poem helps readers consider the many ways deferred dreams might impact their lives.

For example, in the second line of the poem, Langston Hughes questions whether dreams dry up when they are deferred, like a raisin in the sun. He uses raisins, a dried fruit, to depict how our dreams (once ripe and filled with hope, like grapes) dry up like raisins when we are not able to accomplish them.

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