Harlem Questions and Answers
by Langston Hughes

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What are all the similes in the poem "Harlem"?

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A simile is a figure of speech in which an author makes a comparison between two unlike things. Using the words "like" or "as" confirms the similarity. The purpose is to emphasize the description or make it more vivid.

In his poem "Harlem," Langston Hughes speaks about the frustration experienced by African Americans in having to delay or set aside their desire or dream to attain success by comparing it to ordinary, concrete, tangible experiences to which the audience can relate.

Hughes effectively uses five similes by asking whether this deferred dream is something that

  • dries up like a raisin in the sun
  • festers like a sore and then run
  • stinks like rotten meat
  • crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet
  • just sags like a heavy load

The first four images speak of neglect and abandonment, while the last relates to a burden which, by its very nature, suggests disillusionment and depression. These powerful expressions propose that dreams require hard work, care, and attention.

The accentuated final question...

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In his poem, Harlem, Langston Hughes addressed what happens when an aspiration is postponed or lost for a Black American. Before critical analysis of this poem, it is incredibly important to first understand this time period, in which the poem Harlem was written. The Harlem Renaissance period was a crucial staple in the upliftment, preservation and forward movement in the impact on black life. The objective was to bring about a sense of belonging and inspiration of cultural pride among Black Americans and break away from racist beliefs and stereotypes that were depicted in art and literature.
Throughout the poem Harlem, Hughes presents a number of thought provoking questions: The first question, Hughes asks, is the catalyst by which the entire momentum of the poem is set... “What happens to a dream deferred?” The word deferred, signifies something being intentionally or unintentionally left alone. It further questions a persons level of dreaming for something greater and how, someone is not able to achieve it. Further reiterating the idea of how limited the American Dream was for African Americans.
The second question asks, in relation to a dream deferred, “ ...does it dry up like a raisin in the sun”. A raisin as we know it, already is wilted, shriveled and brown. Add this very thing to the hot temperature of the sun and you virtually have something that is non existent. Another question Hughes asks is, “...or fester like a sore and then run”... a sore is a painful injury that takes time to heal and by festering Hughes is referring to the concept of becoming worse. When he says to run, this means after all of the time and energy with the deterioration of the festering sore, one will still run away and not take the time to focus on the impaired quality. Later in the poem, Hughes ends it with, “Or does it explode” this connotates a complete blow up and could be viewed as success or complete utter disappearance all together.
Thus, Hughes reaffirms that a continuation of not letting an individual dream, and try to limit them, then there’s going to be a reaction, just like the explosion.