What is Langston Hughes' main theme in his poems "Harlem" and "Dream Variations"?

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litchick2011 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both the poems "Harlem" and "Dream Variations" deal with the struggle of African - Americans prior to and during the Civil Rights movement. "Dream Variations" depicts the dream Langston Hughes, and other African - Americans may have. The following lines speak to Hughes' desire for more than just the equality of the races. He wants his black brothers and sisters to grab their rightful place in the sun:

"Till the white day is done....While night comes on gently. Dark like me - That is my dream. "

The metaphor of the night overcoming the day is a clear statement of Hughes' desire for the future of African - Americans.

If "Dream Variations" is a depiction of Hughes' celebration of blackness and the hope for himself and other African - Americans, then "Harlem" is the answer to the question addressed in the first line: "What happens to a dream deferred?" Essentially, what will happen if African - Americans are constantly denied their god - given rights? For some, they will experience resignation and defeat, giving up the dream entirely so that it either "[festers like] a sore" or "sags like a heavy load." For some, Hughes offers an even more rebellious resolution. For these people, they will become so fed up with the injustice that their dream will simply "explode," leaving the reader with the impression that Hughes does not intend to, to steal a line from Dylan Thomas, "go gently into that good night."

jeskins | Student

"Harlem" is in basic terms, a African-American, expressing his frustrations towards the impact racism has had throughout his life, frustrations that many others have felt alongside him. It's simple to read, but the simplicity gives away the true depth of this struggle.