The dream that Hughes refers to represents the hopes for social equality with whites that African Americans had cherished for so long but that always been frustrated. The opening question of the poem serves as a kind of introduction to the entire volume where it was published Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951). Framed by two questions that indicate the lack of social certainties, the poem takes the reader through images indicating that the dream of equal civil rights has decayed. The ending warns that a dream may explode, i. e. that African Americans could react violently to the constant rejection of their demands. This scenario implies that continuing to ignore the discrimination against African Americans could hurt the entire American society and expose how little inclusive the American Dream really was.