Langston Hughes

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Discuss literary devices used by Langston Hughes in his poem "Dreams."

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Langston Hughes wrote for the African-American people.  One of his most frequent topics was dreams.  To him, dreams were the "hope" for the black man.   One of the most famous poems in American Literature belongs to Hughes: "Dreams." His dreams apply to all mankind.

Using a strong visual comparison in each of the stanzas, the poet paints a picture with his words.  This is imagery.  If the reader closes his eyes and listens to the poem, he should be able to bring to life the images ascribed.

In both stanzas,  Hughes begins by challenging the reader "to grab on tightly" to his dreams, desires, ambitions---and never let them go.   

Hold fast to dreams die

For when dreams die...

Using an anaphora [repetition to make a point], Hughes repeats this line four times in an eight line poem.  In addition, alliterative words further emphasise his meaning.  His implication is clear: Never give up on what you want in life!

In the second half of the first stanza, the poet employs a stark and harsh metaphor

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

No hesititation here in understanding the message because if the black man loses his ambition or hope for a better life,  he will never be able to "fly." To fly--a person must not lose expectations for something better.  If he does,  he will only be able to crawl or walk, never to soar as his talents would let him if he kept on "keeping on." The image makes sense: no hopes-- no future.

In the second half of the second stanza, the second metaphor vividly brings to life the image of a cold and bleak world.

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

Who wants to live in that place!  But that is what Hughes' austere message states: Give up, give in--the person's life will be severe, austere, and rugged.  No one desires that life. 

Keep those dreams in the pocket, near to the heart, and pull them out once in a while.  Brush them off and remember no one knows what is around the next corner. Keep on dreaming!


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