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Langston Hughes was an African-American author and artist, known for his numerous poems, essays, short stories and children’s books. Hughes celebrated the black community’s spirit and desired to capture their daily life and conditions via his art. Because of racial injustices and stereotypes that were rampant during those days, several black artists feared expressing themselves, but Hughes came out as a powerful voice untiringly advocating for the civil right of African Americans. This paper compares and contrasts two poems by Hughes, “A Dream Deferred” and “Let America Be America Again” with a focus on poetry elements used in the poems. First, we will describe the two poems. My choice of the two poems is based on their relevance to the reader’s daily life. Every person can easily relate to these poems, since they both convey the broad idea of what takes place inside the real world when people’s dreams are crushed.
Description of the Poems
Hughes wrote, “A Dream Deferred” in 1951 at a time when the black community was distressed with disillusionment and deferred dreams even after the Civil War liberated them from slavery. It is worth noting that despite their liberation and granted voting rights; blacks remained marginalized in every sphere. They were limited to segregated schools and performing menial jobs. A majority of African-Americans lived in Harlem. From the poem’s title, Hughes intended to highlight the frustrated and postponed dream of equality, freedom, opportunity, dignity and success for African Americans residing in Harlem. Through this poem, Hughes presents the possible consequences of constantly postponing a dream, which are frustration, infection and explosion.
“Let America Be America Again”, on the other hand, is highlighting the inequality that has prevailed in America over the years. According to Hughes, America has not lived to its expected standards as evidenced by the lack of equal opportunities for every American. Hughes highlights the voices of various groups of people who feel excluded in the American dream. Despite the current situation in America, Hughes does not give up; he hopes for a better America in the future.
The author uses imagery in both poems. “A Dream Deferred” also has several images for instance, Hughes utilizes a dried up raisin to create an image of a broken dream. He compares grapes that have lost their succulence in the sun to a dream whose achievement has been postponed over a long period. Another imagery is evident in the use of a wound that does not heal in the sentence, “Or fester like a sore-and then run?” (4-5). A wound that does not heal here is meant to show the increasing resentment amongst people whose dreams are not attained. Unfulfilled dreams make people emotionally inflamed due to disappointment and frustration, and Hughes compares this to an untreated wound that worsens, becomes infected, and begins to smell awful as time goes. The author compares a differed dream to rotten meat to create an image that unattained dreams have the potential of revealing the worst in human beings. Postponing a dream also makes it less attractive to some people. Hughes also makes use of the sugar to create a fake picture that everything is well even if people postpone their dreams. However, in reality, their minds are still stuck on their differed dreams, however, much they might be hidden underneath a sweet crust.
Several images are also evident throughout the poem, “Let America Be America Again”. For instance, when Hughes says, “I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart” (21), I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars” (22), I am the red man driven from the land” (23). The idea of scars creates an exceptionally clear image on the mind of the reader regarding the beatings and violence that slaves in America underwent. These images propel the reader to remember the atrocities that took place in America.
Hughes uses clear language in both poems to literally mean what he says. For instance, in “Let America Be America Again” he says, “O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath-- America will be!” (77-81). These are direct words that are meant to inform the reader of the unequal opportunities that exist in America and the author’s optimism of a better tomorrow. In “A Dream Deferred”, Hughes begins the poem by asking, “What happens to a dream differed?” (1). This is also a direct question meant to get the reader thinking about the message of the poem.
In “A Dream Deferred”, the phrase, “maybe it just sags, like a heavy load” (9-10), or “does it explode?” (11), has a hidden meaning that when a dream is not postponed, it becomes a burden that turns cancerous in the body of the bearer. When the person can no longer hang on to the dream, it finally destroys him. In, “Let America Be America Again”, Hughes uses the image of slavery’s scars in the line, "I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars (21), to connote the brutality that slaves in America underwent.
Hughes uses a series of rhyming words in both poems. Examples of rhymes in “A Dream Deferred” include meat and sweet, load and explode, as well as, sun and run. In “Let America Be America Again”, there are also rhyming words like “be” and “free” (2 and 4), “dreamed” and “schemed” (6 and 8), and “wreathe” and “breathe” (12 and 14).
Hughes uses words and phrases repeatedly in both poems. For instance, in “A Dream Deferred”, he repeats the word “or” and the phrase, “does it” two times each, to enhance the intensity of his questions. In “Let America Be America Again”, the author repeats the same message in different forms to emphasize the fact that he has never felt a part of the American dream. For example, both “America never was America for me” (10) and “It never was America for me” have the same message.
The Use of Figurative Language
The use of figurative language is evident in both poems. In “A Dream Deferred”, the author uses a series of similes for instance; he inquires whether a postponed dream dries out “like a raisin in the sun” (3). A dried and crumpled raisin here creates a sharp, contrasting image to the succulent grape that the dream once was. The next series of similes creates a remarkably unpleasant image of a differed dream. Hughes asks whether a differed dream “fester like a sore - and then run?” (4-5), or “stink like rotten meat?” (6), or “crust and sugar over - like a syrupy sweet?” (7-8). These similes imply that if a dream is postponed, it is likely to get rotten. It is worth noting the author’s dark and casual choice of words in these three similes. Hughes uses words like “stink”, and “dry up”, which are usually not pleasant to the ear.
Unlike the first four similes which are posed in the form of questions, the last simile in the poem is in the form of a guess. It says, “Maybe it just sags, like a heavy load” (9-10). The use of “maybe” here portrays a differed dream as a heavy load that is continually weighing a dreamer down. This phrase signifies that dreams become part of people’s bodies, which when not adequately pursued and supported, turn into a profound burden on the dreamer. The last stanza of the poem reads, “Or does it explode?” This is a metaphor that Hughes uses to emphasize on the fact that postponing a dream eventually hurts the dreamer, who explodes due to anger and frustration. Both the reader and the dreamer are left to wonder about the outcomes of that explosion.
In “Let America Be America Again”, the author also uses figurative language to evoke mental images in the reader. When Hughes says, “who are you that mumbles in the dark?” (17), he creates an image of darkness in the mind of his audience of the American dream that is covered up, thus making it inaccessible to some people.
“A Dream Deferred” has three stanzas. The initial stanza is relatively long and conveys a general message. Stanza two has two lines, while stanza three has only one line. The stanzas in the poem, “Let America Be America Again” are seventeen and each of them varies in length.
“A Dream Deferred” talks about what becomes of postponed dreams. In this poem, Hughes questions where dreams go once they are forgotten. “Let America Be America Again”, conversely, talks about the lack of equal opportunities for every American. As a result, Hughes feels excluded in the American Dream.
Hughes tone in “Let America Be America Again” is confessional and optimistic. He accepts the way things are in America, but hopes that they will get better in the future. In “A Dream Deferred”, on the other hand, the author’s tone is formal and encouraging. Hughes encourages people to hold on to their dreams.
Point of View
“A Dream Deferred” is written in the third person while “Let America Be America Again” is written in the first person (evident by the use of “I”).
The poems, “A Dream Deferred” and “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes have numerous similarities and differences. The first poem talks about the consequences of postponing a dream, while the latter highlights the unequal opportunities existing in America. The two poems both convey a common idea of what occurs in the actual world when people’s dreams are not attained. In general, Hughes’ poems are well written and have a strong message that every reader will find helpful.