In "Harlem," poet Langston Hughes asks what happens to a dream deferred. He wrote this poem during the Harlem Renaissance, at a time when African American writers were openly criticizing a racist and prejudiced society. His poem suggests that all the dreams racists have forced African American to defer will one day explode in their faces.
Hughes opens the poem with the question, "What happens to a / dream deferred?"
Hughes then presents a number of increasingly grotesque possibilities likening the dream to infected wounds and rotting flesh.
- Hughes then suggests that the deferred dreams won't rot away and will, rather, explode. This question sublimates the anger African Americans feel toward their oppressors and implies that trying to destroy these dreams will lead to dire consequences.