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What is the theme of "As I Grew Older" by Langston Hughes?

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nelle1986 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 27, 2011 at 4:03 AM via web

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What is the theme of "As I Grew Older" by Langston Hughes?

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

Posted June 27, 2011 at 1:49 PM (Answer #1)

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The fundamental theme of this poem is power in the reclamation of dreams.   A familiar image in his poems, Hughes uses the idea of the dream as representation of how individuals can take action.  The contrasting of the young person whose dreams were separated by "a wall that rose between me and my dream" and the older person who seeks to "break through this wall" is a powerful contrast.  The theme here is that there does not seem to be an age limit to reclaim that which is lost, especially so in the nature of dreams.  While the Status Quo might offer significant inertia and resistance, the individual who is committed to "break through this wall" can reclaim their dreams.  They can "smash this night" and "break this shadow."  Regardless of condition in life, Hughes is suggesting in its most fundamental essence that individuals have power and autonomy as they seek to bring "sun" into what was darkness.  For Hughes, this theme is resoundingly powerful, demanding a sense of action and solidarity as opposed to personal isolation.

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted March 9, 2015 at 1:25 PM (Answer #2)

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Just to add to the answer above, we might say that the dream that Hughes refers to is the dream of achieving equality and freedom as a black man in a racist society. There is no direct statement of this, but there are telling references to being black.

In a particularly effective touch, the line 'I am black' occurs almost in the centre of the poem, at the point of the speaker's deepest despair when the wall that shuts out his dream reaches its greatest height, leaving him to 'lie down in its shadow.' This wall, of course, can symbolize the racist barriers in society which deny people like Hughes their early hopes. In his youth, the speaker started out with such dreams, but is thwarted for a time by social oppression. However, as he becomes more mature, he once again takes up the dream, willing his 'dark hands' to smash through the barriers of racial injustice and oppression and to once again let in the light, the 'sun.'

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