“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?”
~ Langston Hughes
Dreams are something that keep us going and reflect our deepest desires. They are the ultimate goals we have for ourselves. Their accomplishment could mean the world for us.
In his poem “Dream Deferred” (also known as “Harlem”), Langston Hughes talks about what happens when you postpone your dreams. Does it matter? Will the consequences be significant? Let’s find out.
“Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?”
Through his piece, Hughes may be trying to tell us that when you keep delaying your goals, it starts affecting you negatively. Initially, it’s like a raisin, a nice fruit that you can consume at your pleasure. But over time, that same delicious fruit loses its essence and is no more desirable.
“Or fester like a sore–
And then run?”
A deferred dream can also be like a bodily injury. It can hurt just as much if not more than a wound on your body. Initially, you may be able to bear it but over time it becomes worse and worse until it gets infected. At that point, the same thing that was deemed innocent would now be considered lethal.
“Does it stink like rotten meat?”
It’s also like a piece of meat. Fresh and delectable at first. It can satisfy your hunger, the way the fulfillment of a dream can satisfy you mentally. But if you let it linger too long and don’t touch it, it can rot and thus become undesirable. It no longer can satisfy you. Its stench will make it difficult to keep around. It will only be a burden to yourself.
“Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?”
A dream can also be compared to a tasty sweet. Something that is oh-so tempting and can satiate your sweet tooth, if it is devoured when it is fresh. If it is left out for too long, though, this same mouth-watering treat loses its allure.
“Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.”
If you don’t fulfill your dreams, they can hang over you like a heavy load: they can act as extra baggage always eating the back of your mind. Constant doubts and what-ifs will crop up to remind you of their incomplete nature. The pressure of having to do it may overwhelm you. Uncertainty and tension from not knowing the outcome of trying could pester you. It’s a whole lot to handle.
“Or does it explode?”
I believe this could mean one of two things. Firstly, maybe you explode with all the uneasiness and unfulfillment brought on by the deferred dream. This causes you to abandon your excuses and finally pursue your goals.
If this doesn’t happen, the other possibility is that pressure or dissatisfaction from it could lead to mental chaos. You cannot handle the load and so explode. This may happen in the form of displacing these strong feelings on someone else. It could also just ruin the mental health of the person. Either way, it leads to a destructive aftermath.
This damaging path doesn’t help you reach the dream. The dream may also be unattainable at this point, which makes the pain and repercussions worse.
Hughes originally wrote “Harlem” (“Dream Deferred”) with oppressed African-Americans in mind. Their chances at fulfilling their dreams were taken away because of subversion by the whites. In this sense, this poem can be a reminder for oppressed groups of every category – whether because of race, or sex, or class or anything else – to not submit themselves to their oppressors but to fight for their dreams.
More broadly though, I believe this poem encompasses any dream of any individual. If there is something you’ve wanted to achieve but have been holding back, this is a poem for you.
So before your dreams become unattainable and haunt you with regret, chase them, in whatever way you can and at least try, giving it your best shot.
What is a dream that you really wanna achieve? Leave it in the comments.