Langston Hughes’ poetry streams with references to “Dreams.” In fact, his poetry carries his heritage and passion for dreaming about his African Ancestors. His grandmother’s first husband, Lewis Sheridan Leary, participated in John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 and died from his wounds. (Rampersad, 3) His father, James N. Hughes, escaped the enduring racism in America and became a landowner in Mexico. (3) His mother was a seeker, looking for better jobs and living conditions, and eventually attained what she desired and offered little Langston Hughes better educational opportunities. (3) From all his family’s longing, Langston Hughes learned about the cost of dreaming, why dreaming is so important and how dreaming helped him as a small boy to adulthood. Unlike the white families in the South, his family was segregated for having some things better than most Blacks, something ambiguous to both Whites and Blacks. 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” by The Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, 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. By recording daily events occurring around him in his poems, the hopes and the dreams grew silently in young Hughes’ mind. He believed that Dreams would come true so long as people did not give-up, as his parents were succeeding in achieving their goals. Most specifically, the poems “Dreams” (CP 32) and “Harlem: A Dream Deferred” (CP 426) directly depict African American Dreams. “Dreams” emphasizes the importance of keeping “Dreams” by using metaphorical expression “Dreams” as “Life.” Likewise “Dream Deferred” demonstrates his feeling of frustration about “Dreams” still remaining unfulfilled.
In Hughes’ poem, “Dreams,” the importance of holding Dreams is represented as a metaphor for life that cannot exist without dreams. He 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 represented hope, believing in better days, and the possibility of a brighter future. Hughes argues that dreams lost in life are like a “broken-winged bird,” and “a barren field.” No matter how reality attempts to destroy you, do not let your dream, your life, die under “Frozen with snow.”
Unlike in Hughes’ late poem, “Dreams,” “Harlem: A Dream Deferred” (CP 426) Hughes expresses his disappointments. Since after holding his dreams for so many years, Langston is asking American Society why Blacks 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
Does it stink like rotten meat? (CP 426)
Hughes inquires himself or African Americans, rather than the White, about the state of their dreams. His answers to these questions and symbolize the dramatic schism within African-American Society.
Or Fester like a store –
Or crust and sugar over –
Or does it explode?
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.
A number of literary scholars have examined the portrait of Dreams in the work of Langston Hughes. These discussions point to the conflict between the central dreams of African- American ideals. The society that Langston Hughes dreamed about was where he and his people could build their own culture originated in Africa and re-affirm with equal assurance their identities: “I am a Negro” and also “I am an American.”
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,” in his essay The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain (1926). (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) 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. 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)
Since Langston Hughes had become an African American poet, he endlessly wrote “Dreams-poems.” Douglas Taylor, in “dream Politics in the Poetry of Langston Hughes,” even made a cynical remark in reaction to 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) Taylor appeals critical reviews about Hughes’ dreams; “The word “dream” does not refer to dreams in the literal sense, but rather in the metaphorical sense of hope and aspirations,” and “Hughes refers are clearly social and utopian.” Taylor denies the creativeness of Hughes’ work and argues that Hughes borrows the ideas of dreams and social visions from “Freud’s insights into dreams. Simultaneously, Taylor accuses Hughes of revising them to suit the hopes and aspirations of the African American community on whose behalf he wrote.” Furthermore, Taylor expands his criticism against Hughes’ antisocial attitude by using Freud’s description in Civilization and its Discontents that “Utopian Possibilities” are too far cynical to embrace so that rather than being resisted, ultimately accepts as necessary to the functioning of any civilized society” (9) Taylor describes “Dream” as the subversive power that Langston Hughes and his contemporaries use to provoke the spiritual malaise and feelings of Euro-American disenchantment, capitalism, and imperialism. (Taylor, 9) He suggests having a view of individuals as the minor rebellions who need to heal the wounds and order and production.
Many scholars worked on Langston Hughes and his dreams in many different ways. Harold Bloom approaches to Hughes literary works as a new form of American Revolution that challenged White American “written down” historical assumptions and cultural norms. 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. He grafts Freud psychological theory onto Hughes “Dream Poems.” He argues that Hughes’ “Oneiric materialism” does not apply to every one especially who uses dreams and seeks personal gain. Hence, Hughes’ theory of dream is nothing 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 progressWorks Cited.
- Rampersad, Arnold. “The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes.” Vintage Classes (1994): 3-7, 32, 426
- 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
- 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
- Taylor, Douglas. “Dream Politics in the Poetry of Langston Hughes”: 8-15
- “A reading Guide to Langston Hughes” http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/reading-guide-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: https://vulpeslibris.wordpress.com/2010/05/24/dreams-by-langston-hughes/ 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” Westover demonstrats several several scholars’ work on “Derams” 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 suppressionPortfolio:1) Brainstorms:
- “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.
3) Peer Review:
4) Example of course notes:
5) Example of closing reading of poems: