Martin Luther King once said, “‘I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal'”. The poem, “Harlem Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes, reveals that suppressing the dreams of people because of their race will have unruly consequences. Hughes is alluding to African Americans being denied the American Dream. This requires the audience to reflect upon the past in order to understand Hughes’ position on segregation within the American Dream. He emphasizes the repercussions of suppressing dreams through his manipulation of literary elements such as metaphor and simile. Similes are the most common literary device Hughes utilizes in this poem.
He has five similes, a few of which are, “Maybe it just sags like a heavy load” (8-9), and “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” (1-2), which compares dreams to unlikely entities. First off, a dream that “sags like a heavy load” (8-9) is a consequence of neglect of that dream that weighs a person down and causes them to become depressed. This is evident in enslaved African Americans during the Civil War Era when slaves lost their will to do the work that kept them from punishment or even death. Secondly, a dream that “dries up like a raisin in the sun” (1-2), shrinks and withers away into nothing resulting in the individual losing hope of ever accomplishing that dream. This simile, can also be related to the life of a slave. Many slaves lost hope in their dreams of becoming free, and the dream dwindled.
Though similes are more evident, Hughes employs a metaphor in “Harlem Dream Deferred” in the last line of the poem, which questions, “Or does it explode?” (10). This metaphor is comparing a subdued dream to an explosive; proposing that if a dream is constantly suppressed, the force of that dream will build up and become too overwhelming. Some Harlem Renaissance architects, such as Martin Luther King, exploded in a way that was more peaceful.
He relied on words to express his view on racial inequality because he too had a dream. Malcolm X shared a similar dream to King, but erupted in a more violent manner using any means necessary to accomplish his dreams. This poem serves as a warning that if people are not able to recognize and follow their dreams, they will take part in social and political violence.
That is why Hughes goes to the extreme of comparing a deferred dream to an explosion because he does not want harm to come to people over the matter, but he desires change. He wants everyone to be able to attain their dreams.