Major Essay 1
What happens when a dream is put on hold and what happens to the person who
possesses the dream? Langston Hughes, an influential African American writer, attempts to
answer this question in his poem “Harlem.” He does this by asking several questions and
comparing dreams and dreamers with other objects. Hughes uses multiple similes to illustrate
his thoughts on the fate of postponed dreams and the people who put them on hold.
With time, dreams can fade away. Hughes first wonders if a postponed dream “[dries] up
/ like a raisin in the sun” (2-3). This makes one think of an old, shriveled piece of fruit. Like a
raisin, dreams start out vibrant and full, but when left alone for too long will shrivel up and fade
away. This can also be true of people who put their dreams on hold. There are many times when
people are forced to postpone their dreams. For example, parents frequently must put their own
dreams on hold while they raise their children. Often by the time their children have grown, it is
too late to begin working on their dream. They start out full of hope of completing their dream,
but after waiting for so long their hope fades away.
Dreams require attention in order to be fulfilled. Hughes asks if a dream “fester[s] like a
sore” (4). This comparison makes one think of an injury that refuses to heal. Having a dream
can become painful when a person is unable to achieve it. For example, person might have
always wanted to travel but had responsibility to his or her job and/or family. The person may
always regret not going and obsess over it. He or she may also become jealous of others who
had the opportunity to go travel. Like a wound that does not receive proper care, a dream that
isn’t given the proper attention can eat away at a person’s heart.
Additionally, dreams can become decayed. Hughes wonders if a delayed dream “stink[s]
like rotten meat” (6). This comparison makes one think of food that was forgotten. Not acting
on a dream can cause it to rot and decay like meat does when neglected. For example, a person