In the poem "Dream Variations" by Langston Hughes, why does the idea of whirling and dancing have power? What does it symbolize to Hughes?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are, apparently, two variations on the same dream in this poem. In the first, the speaker dreams that he might:

. . . fling [his] arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.

There is something that seems restrictive about the day: first, he associates it with "white[ness]," and second, he can only dream of whirling and dancing during the daytime—implying that it is something not typically allowed him (perhaps because of his race). The idea of whirling and dancing seems to have power, because it is something he aspires to and dreams of doing; to do it would be fulfilling and empowering.

In the second variation on the dream, the speaker longs:

To fling [his] arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.

Now, the day is "quick" rather than "white," and so perhaps this dream variation is a more advanced version of the first one. "White[ness]" is no longer privileged—unlike in the first variation, the night is "Black like me." Dancing and whirling seems like something equalizing, as though being able or allowed to dance and whirl would help to promote and maintain racial equality.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Hughes's poem, he speaks about stretching his arms wide during the day. He writes, "To whirl and to dance / Till the white day is done. / Then rest at cool evening." This is a poem about dreams, and whirling and dancing are powerful ideas in this poem because they express his desire to be free and express himself fully. However, because Hughes is a black man, he does not have the ability to express himself fully during the day or expand his arms wide, literally and figuratively. His days are likely spent working, and he lives in a society that does not always allow him to whirl and dance. When he cries, "Dance! Whirl! Whirl!," he is expressing his dreams rather than reality. These actions symbolize what he feels a black man can't do in America--that is, to act with freedom, creativity, and abandon. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial