Why does Langston Hughes answer his main question with a list of questions in "Harlem"?
Hughes' fundamental question is one where there cannot be a direct and reductive answer. Simply put, one can only examine the possibilities and not derive a totalizing answer. This is why Hughes possess question after question. Hughes is trying to make the point that so much of negative reality emerges with the continual deferral of dreams. From a social or political point of view, when the dreams of African- Americans are continually put aside by White society, the resulting forms will be divergent. The one underlying theme to all of these questions is that they all represent the sensibilities that detract from a great society, or a historical legacy of a nation that seeks to widen opportunity. In the end, the results of dreams being deferred cannot be given in answers, but rather through potential scenarios that bring out more dread than anything else.
Although Hughes does not specifically answer his question, "What happens to a dream deferred?" his following questions certainly cause his readers to think about the negative consequences of someone's dream being stifled. Because all of Hughes' ensuing questions and statements ("Does it stink like rotten meat? . . . Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load.") rely on grotesque imagery, the poet's view of lost dreams in America is clear. He makes readers consider not only what would happen to themselves if their dreams were continually put offbut also what happens to those around them who might be "festering" inside because of lost hope/dreams. Thus, if Hughes had simply written statements for the lines following his initial question, readers might not have examined their own thoughts on deferred dreams.