What is the speaker's attitude in "Harlem"?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The speaker in the poem holds an examining attitude towards the American Dream.  The speaker in the poem offers different perspectives towards the dream in America.  The theme of the poem is to question the reality of dreams that are set aside.  Set amidst the condition of those in America whose voices are denied, the speaker in the poem posits possible results from the opening question of "What happens to a dream deferred?"  The attitude of the speaker is a reflective one, with an ominous tone struck by the posing of the closing question:  "Or does it explode?"  This attitude of the speaker does not indicate anything other than a predicament where little good results from the actions of dreams being deferred.

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price7781 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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The poem, “Harlem,” by Langston Hughes is a warning to his readers as to what happens when one puts off or defers one’s dreams.  It is motivational in nature, asking his readers to reflect on what happens if they deny their goals and dreams.  He suggests that unfulfilled dreams will “dry up like a raisin in the sun,” or become a “heavy load.”  He wants to empower his reader to seek what they want in life and not be denied all they deserve.  For African-Americans who have been deprived of their dreams, Langston Hughes encourages them to not let their dreams “explode” where they will be gone forever.  If one’s dreams are undermined by societal prejudice or racism, it is easy to give up and not try.  Hughes forcefully shows through his use of imagery and literary devices like similes what can happen to dreams when they are put off or interrupted.   His attitude is to encourage others to not let go and to keep striving for the American dream that has been denied them.

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