Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Dream Deferred... I mean "Harlem"

What do you want to be when you grow up? I want to be an astronaut/doctor/teacher/insert profession of choice here. Every kid no matter what will always answer you with great enthusiasm what they want to become when they are grown ups. The wonderful thing about children is that their possibilities are limitless, no one can tell them they cannot do whatever it is they say. In the poem "Harlem," Langston Hughes is most definitely thinking from the perspective of a young boy, but rather someone who has been around long enough for their dreams to be set aside for various reasons. Hughes describes the various routes a deferred dream can go, none of which are very appealing. Who wants the stench of "rotten meat," or the view of a festering "sore," or even the weight of a "heavy load?" All of these things are undesirable but the reality is that dreams that are put off are inevitable. It is impossible to know the future and so even less probable to make sure that we can do what we have been planning for many years. Unexpected things happen and eventually pull us away from what we wanted to do in the beginning but what would be worse is having dreams deferred because of skin color or race.
Appropriately this poem was named "Harlem" seeing as it is one of the places where many African Americans lived and had to share in the common struggle for reaching out for something more in life and becoming something in this world. Many of those dreams were deferred. Even if they did want to succeed in school or get an education, they found out that they really couldn't do much because their world was ruled by the white man so they could not advance as much as they would have liked to. Many old people probably also had to put their dreams on hold because they unexpectedly had children or for the same laws that did not allow for them to get ahead in their careers. The last part was kind of ambiguous for me because it could be taken in a positive light or a negative one. When he asked "or does it explode?" does it mean that they decided not to let it stop them from doing what they wanted or that they got tired of the oppression and resorted to violence for what people had done to them?

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