Saturday, September 29, 2012
My Poetry Extrication!
To dream, is to live Langston Hughes’ “Dream Deferred” is, simply put, about the spill-over affects of putting a dream on hold. Since the poem was written in the opening decade of the Civil Rights Movement, Hughes most likely meant for the poem to be his own experience on his passion and dreams. However, since the phrasing is geared towards a generalization, it is equally as possible to interpret and adapt the poem’s ideas and concepts across to each individual’s lives. In his poem, we will come across the challenges facing any individual when putting something as passionate as a dream aside. In this case, Hughes conveys the negatory affects in which holding off a dream might do to an individual through the use of form and literary elements such as similes. Starting off the poem, the speaker compares, on an abstract level, a dream deferred to a raisin. The speaker questions “does [a dream deferred] dry up like a raisin in the sun?” (st. 2). To fully grasp the analogy, i’ll begin by digressing upon the raisin itself. See, a raisin is fruitful, alive, tasty, and sweet. However, a raisin could also be on the complete opposite side of the spectrum; it could be bitter, sour, unsatisfactory, and disappointing. Much like the end-results of any dream and passion that one might pursue. Now when comparing a dream to a dried up raisin in the sun, the speaker implies that the dream has lost all of it’s possibilities in growth and fruitfulness. One could even go as far as saying a dried up raisin in the sun is practically a dream untried, untasted, and unknown; never knowing what it could’ve been like if actually pursued. Further emphasizing the analogy, a raisin left in the sun becomes extremely dry, hard and inedible; stripped of it’s nutritional value and purpose much like losing a talent if not pursued. This creates a resentment which, ultimately, ends up nagging the dream deferrer as we’ll analyze the next stanza. The speaker follows up his question in stanza 3 with, yet another question, “or fester like a sore-- and then run?” This stanza begins by comparing the act of putting off a dream to a festered sore, which implies the fact that it would nag and bother the dream deferrer each step he takes. Having a festered sore on your foot is possibly one of the most uncomfortable and bothersome experiences that you could personally go through. Just walking with one would irritate you the entire day, let alone running with it. So when the speaker compares putting off a dream to running with a sore, the speaker questions whether it would uncomfortably nag and bother him the entire length of his endeavors. At this point, we notice a trend in which the speaker is answering his own questions with yet another set of questions. This particular form of writing is also known as the Socrates Method. It is because of this style of writing that he’s able to convey a generalization to the reader; having us interact and find the answers according to ourself. He makes us question ourselves. He makes us think and interpret rather than spoon-feed us. By phrasing his concepts through the series of questions, he forces us to deeply interpret, question, and figure it out themselves. The very act of this form forces us to be true to ourselves in the interpretation of the poem; simply because when we analyze the poem, we read and question it in direct cognoscente with ourselves. We experience a perfect example of Hughes’ use of the Socrates method in stanza 4. The speaker questions “does it stink like rotten meat?” He begins by implying that a dream put off too long is like meat that has become expired, inedible, and sickening. That the smell itself is so gut wrenchingly rancid that you were glad you didn’t even eat it. By using analogies such as rotten meat, we have a view point in which the speaker believes that perhaps the dream might rot over; ultimately glad that he didn’t take up the dream. Seeing as no one would eat rotten meat and clearly stay away from it, we experience the speaker’s first acceptance in the idea that perhaps it was a good idea to not pursue his dream and that it was overall a bad idea. This is also the first time we experience the speaker answering his own pessimistic set of questions with an optimistic one in direct correlation to the socrates method. The speaker responds abruptly with an optimistic question, “or curst and sugar over- like a syrupy sweet?” (st. 4). With this line, we can’t help but feel the implications of delayed gratification. He contrasts putting off his dreams to sugary sweets. Implying that maybe by putting off his dreams for now, that it would sweeten the pot and make the end result that much more grandiose. Much like baking a cake in a sense. Before we bake a cake, we get the idea of how the cake should be, how it should taste like, how great it’ll taste once it’s made, and that once we finish the entire process of baking the cake, we’ll get to taste our hard work. Now the entire process of baking the cake creates a sense of delayed gratification, that we have to actually complete the baking process and the minute details in which it entails such as putting on the flavorings, decors, and the icings. The cake becomes that much more glorified, tastier, and lustful. So throughout the process of baking the cake, we are self-taught the value of putting in the time and effort to create something we can enjoy. So in the speaker’s implications, putting the dream on hold is much like ‘baking the cake process’ in which as more time goes on, the more lustful glorification we receive. Despite the optimistic response, he does a complete 360 by reverting back to yet another negatory view. He finally proposes an answer “maybe it just sags like a heavy load” (st. 5). Suggesting that holding off on the dream and goal itself is much like trying to carry something heavy for a long duration at a time. Creating a sagging image that the dream itself is spilling over, interrupting, and hindering the bearer of the load. Ultimately suggesting that a dream deferred is an uneasy mental hinderance which spills out onto everyday life creating a ripple effect the longer we carry it. In a personal analogy, dreams would be the wings of a bird. We’re, in this case, the birds. By putting off the dream and letting it die, it’s much like a bird with no wings. We become grounded. We can’t fly. We become just a walking burden of load. For the dreams themselves, are the wings that lift us up and inspire us to do great things. Moving onto the last stanza, which is quite peculiar to me. He states “or does it explode?” (st. 6). I’ve noticed that in all the previous stanzas, Hughes has primarily used similes to convey a heavy sense of vivid imagery. However in the last line, he switches it up this time and uses a metaphor instead. Rather than give us a specific idea to relate to, he ends it off with an induced generalized cliffhanger. I say this simply because in all the previous stanzas, we’re given an imagery, an idea, and something to work with. The stanzas prior to the last one are all similes that draw a specific set of vivid imageries in which we’re allowed to interpret and understand through our own perspectives. The last stanza however, is where Hughes allows us to run rampant. He doesn’t give us a specific set of similes and analogies to convey an idea or concept. Rather, he provided us with a cliffhanger that allows us to freely interpret it however we may choose. I personally translated it as a means to an end. Let me explain further, the mere fact that he mentioned “explode” implies a sense of overburden, over the edge, out of time, and out of choices. It could be interpreted in the sense that perhaps the dream was suppressed for so long that the deferrer explodes and goes berserk. Or it could mean that the dream has been put off for so long that it simply lost all of its potential by “exploding.” You see, dreams are beautiful. It propels the human race to move forward in each generation. Dreams are what carry the human species to the next level. Dreams are potential. But what Hughes is trying to convey here is that, the very act of suppressing and chaining something as universally vast and potent as a dream, negatory side affects are bound to occur. Hughes gets this ideology across with the use of similes and ultimately a metaphor which, coupled with his beautiful use of the Socrates Method, is able to create the position that any dream or goal that is delayed or put off will have a very stressful negatory end-result. In conclusion, I believe very firmly in what Hughes ultimately conveys. The very act of oppressing a dream is a shame. Dreams are the gasoline and desire to the passion and drive in our souls and when you take away the primary source of fuel, what happens to us then? We crumble and implode in the lost of life. See, life itself is not about simply living. Life is having something to desire, to look forward to, to have a goal to attain, to have a drive, and most importantly, to dream; because being suppressed and not having a desire in life is not living at all.