A Literary Analysis of the Poem Harlem by Langston Hughes

Tom Hansen In a superficial reading of Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem” (later titled “Dream Deferred) one sees only its obvious simplicity. It asks, and provides a series of disturbing answers to, the question, “What happens to a dream deferred?”. A closer reading reveals the essential disunity of the poem. It is a ground of unresolved conflict. Various elements of its outer body, its form, contend with each other as well as with various elements of its inner body, its structure: that “sequence of IMAGES and ideas which unite to convey the meaning of the poem”. Five of the six answers to the opening question are interrogative rather than declarative sentences. However, due to its tentative “Maybe,” the sole declarative sentence is far less potent less truly declarative, one might say than the final line, that final, forceful, emphatically italicized interrogative, which, in spite of the fact that it is merely one more in a series of questions, is the conclusive, though not the sole and exclusive, answer to the question posed in line. The result of all this is a poem so out of joint that its five questions strongly assert and its single assertion tentatively suggests. In contrast, the poem’s typography seems more logical up to a point. The first and last lines, original question and final answer, begin at the left margin. The five intervening answers are indented, forming a longer stanza of four questions and a much shorter stanza of one declarative sentence. The former are so dramatic that the latter hardly seems to merit the emphasis it receives by being set off as a stanza by itself. Had Hughes allowed stanza divisions to complement rhyme scheme by making the last three lines into a single concluding stanza and dividing the seven-line stanza between lines 5 and 6, the resulting three stanzas would more clearly reflect the structure, the inner body, of the poem, which consists of three paired oppositions: “dry up” and “fester,” “stink” and “sugar over,” and “sag” and “explode.”

But Hughes did not do this. Rhyme is integrated with structure in a way that typography is not. If the typography had been, structure would be that much more evident, and the poem would appear to be more logically divided into stanzas. The imagery of its oppositions progresses from the visual (“dry up” and “fester”), to the olfactory (“stink”) and, in part, gustatory (“syrupy sweet”), to the kinesthetic (“sag”) and organic (“explode”). This outward-to-inward progression of imagery subtly draws the reader into the poem or the poem into the reader, who begins by seeing “out there” the drying up and the festering and who ends by feeling “in here” the slump and the explosion. Questions that are answers; a penultimate answer so tentative that it more resembles a question; stanza divisions which partially obscure our perception of the poem as a trio of paired oppositions progressing from outer to inner; a rhyme scheme which at odds with the typography reinforces the division into paired oppositions, all result in a poem in conflict with itself, pulled in different directions by some of its most basic constituent elements. Yet this surely calculated failure is the measure of the poem’s success. Its dis-integration mirrors the continuing failure of American society to achieve harmonious integration of blacks and whites. Few poems so well illustrate Charles Olson’s sometimes puzzling dictum, “Form is never more than an extension of content”.

Calculate the price
Make an order in advance and get the best price
Pages (550 words)
*Price with a welcome 15% discount applied.
Pro tip: If you want to save more money and pay the lowest price, you need to set a more extended deadline.
We know how difficult it is to be a student these days. That's why our prices are one of the most affordable on the market, and there are no hidden fees.

Instead, we offer bonuses, discounts, and free services to make your experience outstanding.
How it works
Receive a 100% original paper that will pass Turnitin from a top essay writing service
step 1
Upload your instructions
Fill out the order form and provide paper details. You can even attach screenshots or add additional instructions later. If something is not clear or missing, the writer will contact you for clarification.
Pro service tips
How to get the most out of your experience with MyhomeworkGeeks
One writer throughout the entire course
If you like the writer, you can hire them again. Just copy & paste their ID on the order form ("Preferred Writer's ID" field). This way, your vocabulary will be uniform, and the writer will be aware of your needs.
The same paper from different writers
You can order essay or any other work from two different writers to choose the best one or give another version to a friend. This can be done through the add-on "Same paper from another writer."
Copy of sources used by the writer
Our college essay writers work with ScienceDirect and other databases. They can send you articles or materials used in PDF or through screenshots. Just tick the "Copy of sources" field on the order form.
See why 20k+ students have chosen us as their sole writing assistance provider
Check out the latest reviews and opinions submitted by real customers worldwide and make an informed decision.
Leadership Studies
excellent job
Customer 452773, August 26th, 2023
10th grade English
very good
Customer 452773, March 26th, 2023
thank you so much
Customer 452749, June 10th, 2021
excellent work
Customer 452773, October 6th, 2023
Business and administrative studies
excellent work
Customer 452773, March 9th, 2023
Criminal Justice
This has been the greatest help while I am recovering from an illness. Thank your team so much.
Customer 452671, May 2nd, 2021
Leadership Studies
awesome work as always
Customer 452773, August 19th, 2023
excellent job
Customer 452773, August 12th, 2023
excellent job made a 93
Customer 452773, March 22nd, 2023
Human Resources Management (HRM)
excellent job
Customer 452773, July 17th, 2023
English 101
great summery in terms of the time given. it lacks a bit of clarity but otherwise perfect.
Customer 452747, June 9th, 2021
Business and administrative studies
excellent job! got an A, thank you
Customer 452773, May 24th, 2023
Customer reviews in total
Current satisfaction rate
3 pages
Average paper length
Customers referred by a friend
15% OFF your first order
Use a coupon FIRST15 and enjoy expert help with any task at the most affordable price.
Claim my 15% OFF Order in Chat

Sometimes it is hard to do all the work on your own

Let us help you get a good grade on your paper. Get professional help and free up your time for more important courses. Let us handle your;

  • Dissertations and Thesis
  • Essays
  • All Assignments

  • Research papers
  • Terms Papers
  • Online Classes
Live ChatWhatsApp