Homework Help

What are all the similes in the poem "Harlem?"

user profile pic

tonih35 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) eNoter

Posted October 6, 2010 at 8:40 AM via web

dislike 1 like

What are all the similes in the poem "Harlem?"

2 Answers | Add Yours

Top Answer

user profile pic

pearlepratt | Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted October 6, 2010 at 10:24 AM (Answer #1)

dislike 2 like

The poem, “Harlem” by Langston Hughes, contains several similes. Each of these figures of speech is designed to describe the frustration and impotence felt by one who is prevented from realizing dreams. Moreover, each simile poses a possible response to the rhetorical question posed in the poem’s opening line: “What happens to a dream deferred?”  

There are five similes in the poem. The first simile suggests that the dream dries up, “like a raisin in the sun” lacking vitality and viability. The second simile offers the possibility that the dream rots, or “festers like a sore.” In this instance, the “dream” is figuratively blistering and decaying. Next, Hughes proposes that the dream may begin to “stink like rotten meat” tainting the dreamer with the rank and fetid smell of disappointment. Still, in others, the dream becomes sappy and sickening, “like a syrupy sweet.” The fifth and final simile states that the dream may begin to “sag like a heavy load” which burdens and encumbers the dreamer.

user profile pic

Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted June 1, 2015 at 4:46 PM (Answer #2)

dislike 0 like

Here is the full text of the poem, and below that I explain the five similes in order:

Harlem, by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?
 
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.
 
Or does it explode?
 
A simile is an unusual comparison using the words "like" or "as."  Hughes is obviously a fan of using the word "like" for his similes.  I will mention the simile and then explain the comparison.
 
The first simile is as follows:  "like a raisin in the sun." This simile compares the "dream deferred" (the dream of equality) to a "raisin in the sun."  This definitely gives us an image of a dried-up dream or one that has withered away.
 
The second simile is as follows:  "like a sore."  This simile compares the "dream deferred" (the dream of equality) to a "fester[ing]" and then "runni[ing]" sore.  Again we have a very negative image here of an infected wound that runs with puss.  This is WORSE than a "raisin in the sun" and implies that animosity is brewing inside as a result.
 
The third simile is as follows:  "like rotten meat."  This simile compares, again, the "dream deferred" (the dream of equality) to "rotten meat" that "stinks."  This now goes from sight and touch images into smell imagery.  It is just as grotesque as those above.
 
The fourth simile is as follows:  "like a syrupy sweet."  This simile compares, again, the "dream deferred" (the dream of equality) to a "crust" of a "syrupy sweet" that has "sugared over."  Again, a negative image, but this time hidden by a positive one:  that of candy.  But an old candy that has crusted over is old and disgusting.  One cannot hide "fake" equality with sugar.
 
The fifth and final simile is as follows:  "like a heavy load."  This simile compares the "dream deferred" (the dream of equality) to a burden that is heavy.  It "sags" while the person bears its weight.  In short, it AFFECTS the person, just as racism affects the African American race.

Sources:

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes