Why does Langston Hughes answer his main question with a list of questions, and is he expressing political or societal values?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think you must be referring to one of Langston Hughes' most famous poems, "A Dream Deferred."

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?


Or fester like a sore--

And then run?


Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over--

like a syrupy sweet?


Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.


Or does it explode?

The first question is, in fact, a question, introducing the theme of the poem. The following questions, however, are rhetorical. Their answers are obvious to the reader. Rhetorical questions have power because the reader (or listener, in the case of a speech) makes the connection between question and answer for himself. Also, Hughes' rhetorical questions create a catalog of powerful, disturbing similes, concluding suddenly with the implication of violence or destruction in the single final line. In terms of the poem's political or social values, Hughes makes a strong statement about the importance of individual dreams and the terrible consequences that result when dreams are put off, never to be realized. It could be assumed from the poem that a society that forces its people to continually defer their dreams would diminish their individual lives and create in them powerful emotions that could not be contained forever.