Revision of Langston Hughes ~ Unfulfilled Dreams
Langston Hughes ~ Unfulfilled Dreams needs to clarify close reading and analysis of two poems; “Dreams” and “Dream Deferred.” This essay is a lack of summary and connection of scholarship in lit review, and clarity of writing and ideas. To enhance the point of view, I reread and the essay and reconsidered the connection with resources. It was not easy in the beginning of revision, but while I was following comments on my own paper, the ideas that I wanted to explain became clear and new ideas recalled in my minds. I added some more explanations to support my arguments besides eliminating overlapping sentences. It was a great experience and amused myself with revising my own work.
Langston Hughes ~ Unfulfilled Dreams
Part 1. Theme Selection
Langston Hughes’ poetry is full of references to “Dreams.” Some of these dreams carry his feelings of his African American heritage and his passion for dreaming about his African Ancestors. He looks at his ancestor’s dreams of America. For example, his grandmother’s first husband, Lewis Sheridan Leary, participated in John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 in hopes of freedom from slavery and died from his wounds (Rampersad, 3). His father, James N. Hughes, was motivated by his own dreams of freedom, escaped the enduring racism in America and became a landowner in Mexico (3). His mother, too, was a seeker, looking for better jobs and living conditions, and eventually attained what she desired in order to offered little Langston Hughes better educational opportunities (3). From all his family’s dreaming, Langston Hughes also pursued his desire for better opportunities and equal treatment for the black society in United States. However, he also learned about the reality of pursing these dreams. In some ways, Langston lived in a netherworld. While his parents were seeking their vision of the future, he was living with his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas, where he experienced race injustice and prejudice from in his early life. Although African-American were declared “free,” their social status continually suffered under White Oppression, lack of sufficient food, unequal educational and socio-economical opportunities. Above all, enduring the brutality of racially charged violence inflicted by the White KKK was the most fearful and life threatening for African Americans in the South (Brinkman, 87). While living in this social phenomenal, dreaming of improving lives were extravagancy for the Blacks and ultimately they took a long journey to the North, the dream world.
By recording daily events occurring around him in his poems, the hopes and the dreams grew silently in young Hughes’ mind. These dreams emerge in his poetry. Most specifically, the poems “Dreams” (CP 32) and “Harlem: A Dream Deferred” (CP 426) directly depict African American Dreams. In “Dreams,” the poem emphasizes the connection between dreams and living. By having dreams or a hope for the future, one is more human because they are imagining that life could be better. However, “Dream Deferred” demonstrates his feelings of frustration about why his or other African American “Dreams” did not come true. While Langston Hughes dedicated a big portion of his life to encouraging hopefulness for Black society to improve their social status, he noticed that his “Dreams” still remained unfulfilled as African Americans were still suffering from bias and social segregation.
In Hughes’ poem, “Dreams,” the importance of holding onto dreams is represented as a metaphor for life that cannot exist without dreams. The poem starts,
Holding fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird (CP 32)
This urgent voice appeals to people not to give-up on their dreams, come what may. He cries for that when the dreams dies, life is dead as well. The first stanza, “Hold fast to dreams,” shows Hughes’ desperation that actually inspires people (and motivating himself) not to give up on aspirations but “hold fast” to live. Holding onto dreams represents existing and believing in the possibility of happiness. Hughes claimed that lives without dreams are meaningless like a “broken-winged bird.” Birds with “broken-wings” means death because they never ever able to fly and they will be an easy prey for hunters. The terms “a barren field” and “frozen with snow” indicate a tomb of life, a living dead and nothingness. So Hughes’ lines put forth the idea that no matter how hard reality attempts to stop you from dreaming, the poem us not to let it execute our lives and dreams.
Unlike in Hughes’ late poem, “Dreams,” “Harlem: A Dream Deferred” (CP 426) expresses his disappointments with the idea of dreaming or hoping for a better future for African Americans. Since after holding his dreams for so many years, Hughes is asking American Society why Black Dreams continue to be just Black Dreams that hardly come true. His frustrations are present here in the poem:
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? (CP 426)
Hughes expressed his anxiety over delaying dreams, “What happens to a dream deferred?” and struggled to find what causes of postponement. He demonstrated the current look of the dreams of the Black, “raisin,” “fester,” and “rotten meat.” It sounds that he blamed his own people, the Black, rather than the White, for neglecting caring their own dreams.
Or crust and sugar over –
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode? Or fester like a store- (CP 426)
The terms of “crust and sugar over” and “a syrupy sweet” indicate “white” or “White-American” and they also illustrate that the Black who were White-Americanized in the North. He made cynical remarks on their compromise with a little improvement in their lives, a little more money, and a little better living condition. Hughes demonstrated being and living as Negroes as “a heavy load” that also represents the Black who tried to forget their roots or deny their true identities. “Dream Deferred” indirectly reveals the dramatic schism within African-American Society.
Through two poems, Hughes not only enlightens his people, African Americans, but he also compels them to take responsibility for the failed fulfillment of dreams and the unification of African-American Society.
Part 2. The Thematic or Literature Review.
A number of literary scholars have examined the portrait of “dream” in the work of Langston Hughes. These discussions point to the conflict between the central dreams of African- American ideals, the utopian promise of the Harlem Renaissance and distortion of individual dreams. The society that Langston Hughes dreamed about was where he and his people could build their own culture that originated in Africa and re-affirm with equal assurance their identities.
Dreams in Hughes’ poetry are often connected to his own revolutionary position on African American racial and class equality. In his essay, The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain (1926), Langston Hughes recalls one dialogue with “one of the most promising of the young Negro poets” who wants to be a poet not like a Negro poet, but like a white poet” (Hughes, 1). Thereafter, Hughes laments that this social phenomenon was happening within the new African-American middle-class. He believed that African Americans would never be able to succeed without first accepting their blackness, being acculturated into mainstream White America, and “to be as little Negro and as Much American as possible” (1). He expressed his concern and his rage against the idea of the new Negro middle-class in “Dream Deferred” in terms of “feaster” and “a rotten meat.” Similarly, David R. Jarrawya, in Montage of an Otherness Deferred: Dreaming Subjectivity in Langston Hughes, takes an example of what Langston Hughes dreamt about entire his life, “To create a Negro culture in America – a real, solid, sane, racial something growing out of the folk life, not copied from another, even though surrounding race” (Jarraway, 821). Additionally, Jarraway exemplified one incident with Alfred A. Knopf, Langston Hughes’ Publisher in the United States, as Hughes’ African American project that “Knopf could not conceal his disdain for Hughes’ refusal to conform to the aesthetic dictates of more mainstream (WASP, masculinist, middle-class) canonical figures” (820). Langston Hughes’ dream work has a great value in the image of the dreams and beloved widely. His passion of these dreams and hopes became one of the greatest embodiments of African-American literacy. Harold Bloom, in “The American Dream,” evaluates Hughes’ poems as “the very essence of his own poetic protest to obviously identify with the Black rebel-heirs to the American Dream” (43). He supports Hughes’ idea of dreams by introducing Lloyd W. Brown’s words that “if Blacks have been excluded outright from the American Dream, White Americans have also denied themselves the substance of those libertarian ideals that have been enshrined in the sacred rhetoric, and history, of the American Revolution” (37). Bloom describes Langston Hughes literary work as “revolutionary inclinations” and takes “Harlem: Dream Deferred” to express the frustrations and the rebellious query of protest against the substantiality of the American Revolution. He equalized Hughes’ dreams as the same of the White American dreams that they attained after political upheaval from overthrew the authority of Great British. However, for the Black, American Revolution was still ongoing war and Hughes’ challenge the power of the White was a different form of American Revolution. The prophetic query, “Or does it explode?” at the last stanza echoes that “legacy of revolution which, ironically, has fallen to Black Americans, precisely because the rhetoric and dreams of that other revolution have failed them” (Bloom, 42 -43).
While many scholars point to Hughes respect for African American dreams, Douglas Taylor highlights that Hughes’ “dreams-poems” also offer critique. Douglas Taylor reviews how Langston Hughes used the term of “dream” besides comparing Hughes’ “utopian perspective” with Freud’s “tragic perspective” on dreams in “dream Politics in the Poetry of Langston Hughes” (Taylor, 8). Since before Langston Hughes became the most famous African American poet, he endlessly wrote “Dreams-poems.” Douglas Taylor links Freud and Hughes’ Dream Work by using a psychic explanation “Obsession.” According to Taylor, seventy-four Langston Hughes’ poems make explicit reference to dreams out of the 879 poems in The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (Taylor, 8). However, Taylor deconstructs the creativeness of Hughes’ work and argues that Hughes borrows the idea of dreams and social visions from “Freud’s insights into dreams while simultaneously revising them to suit the hopes and aspirations of the African American community on whose behalf he wrote” (9). To support his idea, Taylor mentions the time when Hughes interest in dreams coincides with Harlem Renaissance and with the popularization of Freudian psychoanalysis. He claims that Hughes took advantage of an opportunity to use Freud’s ideas of dreams. Taylor’s most dramatic criticisms against Hughes’ poems are that “The word ‘dream’ does not refer to dreams in the literal sense, but rather in the metaphorical sense of hope and aspirations which states clearly ‘social and utopian’ and an ‘ideal of social justice’” (9). He cites a Freudian psychoanalysis point of view to explain why Hughes’ “social and utopian” and “an ideal of social justice” can be tragic because Hughes expresses ‘subversive power of the dream’ in forms of “capitalism, imperialism, and a catastrophic global war” (9). Taylor connects Freud’s “wounded society’ to Hughes’ perception of the African American society who was emerging from a long period of racial and cultural discrimination. This society demands or needs psychological healing in order to recover from neurotic common unhappiness (9). Taylor claims that without this healing process, Hughes’ “Utopian Possibilities” for the African American society are far from reality. This might lead the wounded society to oneiric materialism that does not so much seek to negate the spirituality of dreams (11). Taylor also shows that Hughes’ dream poems also critique material of self-serving dreams because Hughes condemned people who use dreams for seeking personal gains (11).
Many scholars worked on Langston Hughes and his dreams in many different ways. Harold Bloom approaches Hughes literary works as a new form of American Revolution that challenged White American “written down” historical assumptions and cultural norms. Similarly, David R. Jarraway states that “It would be a mistake based on these interpretative refusals to construe Harlem as an empty signifier, or Hughes’s later discourse, as a linguistic counter or cultural marker dried up” (Jarraway, 826). While many scholars support Hughes’ dream vision and embrace his aspirations, some scholars express skeptical reviews about his poems based on racial views, personal aspirations, and individual desires. Among others, Douglas Taylor’s criticism against Hughes’ “wishes to utopian visions” has a very interesting point of view that Hughes’ dreams were based on the reality and Hughes just attempted to follow previous civilized society in Europe. By grafting Freud psychological theory onto Hughes “Dream Poems,” Taylor argues that Hughes’ “Oneiric materialism” does not apply to every one especially who uses dreams and seeks personal gain like the Black in the middle-class who attained their financial improvement. Hence, Hughes’ theory of dream is misunderstanding of reality and nothingness but only “utopian vision and utopian possibilities.” However, Taylor did not explain why Langston Hughes obsesses about dreams and what dreams meant to him. Despite denunciation of Langston Hughes’ poetry works from literary scholarship, no one can deny Hughes’ great efforts and powerful inspirations for African- American Dreams that sustained generations of African-Americans to reject and repel White Oppression and Suppression. Harlem was meaningful to Hughes because it was the first place where African-Americans truly unveiled flourishing artistic talents in literary work, Jazz and Blues (which originated from Africa) a dark contrast to most Blacks who lived in never-ending poverty. Black social status in America continues to be the lowest in America Society. Best of all, Hughes’ Dreams are not limited to African-Americans. Hughes’ Dreams have become the Martin Luther King Dream, the real American Dream for our multi-cultural United States, yet working progress.
- Bloom, Harold. “Bloom’s Literary Themes: The American Dream: Children’s Rhymes (Langston Hughes): The American Dream and the Legacy of Revolution in the Poetry of Langston Hughes by Lloyd W. Brown, in Studies in Black Literature (1976).” Infobase Publishing (2009): 37-46
- Brinkman, Bartholomew. “Movies, Modernity, and All that Jazz: Langston Hughes’ Montage of a Dream Deferred.” African American Review (2011): 85-96
- Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain (1926).” Link: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/essay/2378581-5
- Jarraway, David R. “Montage of an Otherness Deferred: Dreaming Subjectivity in Langston Hughes.” Duke University Press (1996): 819-840
- Rampersad, Arnold. “The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes.” Vintage Classes (1994): 3-7, 32, 426
- Taylor, Douglas. “Dream Politics in the Poetry of Langston Hughes”: 8-15
Part 3. Literary Resource Page
- GradeSaver: “I, Too” summary and analysis.”
This website introduce, summarize, and analyze Langston Hughes’ poems.
- “A reading Guide to Langston Hughes”
This website briefly explains Langston Hughes “Dream Poems” and then presents Hughes’ thoughts about African American social problems. It summarize and analyze Hughes’ several Dream Poems
- Dreams & A dream deferred
This web also summarizes and analyzes one of Langston Hughes’ poems “Dreams” and linked his “Dream Poems” with social phenomenon back that time.
- Wei, Xu. “Use of Dreams in Hughes’s Poetry.” Xu’s scholar study expresses the value of Langston Hughes work, especially his attempt to attain African American Freedom from all oppression of the White.
- Westover, Jeff. “Africa/America: Fragmentation and Diaspora in the Work of Langston Hughes”
- Brinkman, Bartholomew. “Movies, Modernity, and All that Jazz: Langston Hughes’s Montage of a Dream Deferred” Brinkman expresses how African Americans were ignored by America society: even white actors played African American role. He exemplifies subtle racial, cultural discrimination and how Hughes resisted the White suppression.
- “Dreaming” is one of the most substantial themes that Langston Hughes constantly depicts in his poems.
- For oppressed African American, there was almost no opportunity to succeed at anything because they were not given freedom. No one can succeed without freedom or opportunity.
- Life in Lawrence was miserable like he describes in his poems: “Aunty Sue’s Story” and “Mother to Son.”
- Langston Hughes’ poem “Dreams” is a plea to African Americans to not surrender to White Power, to sustain African American heritage, and resist social injustice; “Hold fast to Dreams.” Hughes himself knew that it was not simple for African Americans to resist assimilating into mainstream White American Culture. This could be the hardest challenge and the most difficult thing to overcome. In reality, “Dreams” rarely come true in the real world for Black America.
- He uses the rebellious query of protests, “What Happens to a dream deferred?” (42) He wonders where it disappeared “Does it dry up / Does it stink like rotten meat?” In the fourth stanza, “Or fester like a sore-“ might indicates the Negro middle-class who attempt to become a member of the White society by inserting their true origin; “Don’t be like niggers,” and “Look how well a white man does things.” In seventh stanza, “Or crust and sugar over – / like a syrupy sweet?” is interpretive the time of the dessert. No matter how much you desire, you have to wait for the right time. It is still the time for struggling and the time for freedom has not come yet. Hughes might comforts himself with this phrase and trusts in African American Dream once more.
- Although these two groups have different perspectives on Langston Hughes’ “Dream Poems,” it is difficult to deny how his work inspire people, especially in the low-class in American society, to turnover the harsh realities and embrace positive minds to fulfill their dreams come true. Unfortunately, his dreaming world has not completed yet as “Liberty and Justice” have not fully effected on people equalities.
- The ideal world that Langston Hughes dreams about, the new world in where the black can affirm as the black, in where African-American can proud their own culture without mimicking the other superior races is still progressive.
- His people can play part of their role as the black rather than let the White play their part in movies. His dreaming world is where Afro-Americans love themselves without denying their color and without mimicking the other superior races.