The poet, Langston Hughes, wrote the poem, Harlem, to illustrate and reflect on the mood of most of the African Americans following the end of the second world war. The poem elaborates on the situation characterizing the end of the second world war and the great depression. It illustrates that, even at this point, the dream of African Americans was still far from being realized. The dream refers to the desire that the African Americans had for the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It included the desire for fraternity and equality. Also, it focused on the need for opportunity and respectable life characterized by dignified ethnic identity. The focus was on enabling African Americans to achieve all the good elements promised by the American residents. The poem questions the social consequences of deferred dreams.
The use of symbolism plays a significant role in establishing the meaning of the poem. The use of symbolism is essential in the determination of the dream, as projected by the poem. It is combined with the usage of powerful sensory imagery for the illustration of the encounters experienced by African Americans through the process and desire to attain freedom and equality.
The poet poses the question, “What happens to a deferred dream?” (Hartman 62). The question raised in the introduction of the poem seeks to generate possible reactions among the audience. At this point, he uses the imagery of a raisin. He implores that if a deferred dream dries up, it is similar to a raisin in the sun (Hartman 62). He creates the effect and similarity of grapes losing their juice and a dream losing its meaning if deferred for a long time. The poet also uses the symbolism of a wound that fails to heal. The imagery is also presented through the comparison of a deferred dream with a wound that does not heal. The imagery provides an overview of the resentments that African Americans developed from failing to achieve their dream. It elaborates that, from the failure to achieve their dreams, people get more emotionally inflamed. The poet also visualizes a deferred dream that eventually stinks like rotten meat (Hartman 62). The imagery created suggests that the result of the unrealized dreams to humanity is that they bring out the worst outcomes in men.
The other symbol used in the poem is the imagery of sugar or sweetness. The imagery creates a situation of the deferred dream as a perfect situation for African Americans. It shifts the audience to the sore that exists under the sweet crust of the sugar. He visualizes it as one that sags like a heavy load for the creation of an image of defeat (Hartman 62). He suggests that after a long while of struggles, individuals eventually give up on the efforts. Similarly, a deferred dream eventually dies. He further puts it in a question form to imply that a deferred dream finally explodes.
In summation, following the use of the symbols in the poem, Hughes engages an innovative way of creating a natural chain of occurrences to illustrate the states exhibited by failed dreams. From the symbolism, their use translates from weaker to more robust comparison as the poem progresses. The utilization of the symbolisms gets stronger to show that the urge to fulfill the dreams increases.