How is the emotion of frustration dealt with in the poem "Harlem"? What is the narrator frustrated about? How does he express that frustration? Are there any metaphors or symbolism that are used...

How is the emotion of frustration dealt with in the poem "Harlem"? What is the narrator frustrated about? How does he express that frustration? Are there any metaphors or symbolism that are used to explain that frustration?

Expert Answers
linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For the speaker in this poem, the frustration of a dream deferred is like a wound. But is it an old wound that has scarred over, as the image of the dry raisin suggests. Or is it open and festering, stinking like rotten meat? Or is it scabbed over, which could be a sign of healing, but could also be ripped off to reveal the open wound again. Could it be something chronic, a heavy load you have to live with? Or will it explode into anger and rage?

In these few lines he is expressing the African American experience of having been given their freedom, but not being fully free to enjoy all the rights they are entitled to along with everyone else.

The poem calls to mind Proverbs 13:12: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick,/ But desire fulfilled is a tree of life" (NASB)

It also calls to mind Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, "I Have a Dream" speech, which King gave in 1963, twelve years after Hughes wrote this poem. One sentence from that speech seems to put Hughes's poem in a nutshell: "Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual."

As for similes, metaphors, and other poetic devices used in the poem, because it is so brief, I'll refer you to the Guide to Literary Terms so that you can identify those for yourself.