What poetic techniques and devices does Langston Hughes use in his poem "A Dream Deferred" in order to achieve meaning and purpose?

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lcassidy eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Langston Hughes' poem "A dream deferred", also known in some editions as "Harlem" uses imagery and rhetorical questions in order to bring about meaning and purpose. The author is explaining what could possibly happen when the dreams that we have for ourselves become unattainable – even the simplest dream.  He is speaking in the context of the black community in Harlem because their situation is often dire and it is quite difficult for them to escape their reality and achieve a better life for themselves.  This poem depicts an unfortunate reality for many of the poverty stricken victims who live in these types of situations.  In addition, Hughes uses the following techniques in order to bring his purpose to life.

He uses imagery such as: a dried up raisin that festers, a sore, rotten meat, syrupy sweet, heavy load, explode – to project the seriousness and the emotions that could be felt by individuals who are in these situations.

* He also asks questions – which allow the reader to think about the answer as opposed to him telling us what to think (effective rhetorical device).

*He sets off certain lines to emphasize their meaning as well - “What happens to dreams deferred?”  The author wants to show that an issue is being raised.

* He uses italics at the end and sets off the sentence as a possible warning.  Is this why many individuals from the black community act out or are violent?  Are they left with a choice? Notice that the author never tells us what to think, but helps us to think about it and to empathize with the affected individuals. 

spottedslinky eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since this question seems to have come right off the homework page, let me start by asking some questions to see if maybe you already know more than you think you do.

First look at the title - do you see anything repeated? What do you call it when the first letters of words in a line are repeated?

Next, look for other kinds of repetition, which is a poetic device. What do you find?

What do you call the technique of comparing two things using the word "like" or "as"?

Finally, the last comparison does not use the word "like"; what is it called? And why do you think Hughes made this one shorter than all the rest?

Good luck, and if you still can't find the answers, ask again. But I think you've heard all this before.