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Montage of a Dream Deferred (Langston Hughes)

April 6, 2010

This collection isn’t my favorite by Hughes, but it’s still high quality poetry…by which I mean it gets me thinking about Hughes’ themes and characters (yes, characters, despite the fact that it’s not a narrative poetry collection). The repeated idea of a dream deferred crops up throughout this short collection; my favorite of these instances is the poem “Deferred” (413-4) in which a hodgepodge of voices come together to voice their little wishes, their everyday dreams that have had to be put off. The sometimes grand but mostly simple wishes (owning a television set, buying a white enamel stove that has been desired for decades, passing an exam, etc.) are so poignant, perhaps because of their juxtaposition with each other. Nobody’s asking for a million dollars or a tropical island — they’re asking for things that many people consider creature comforts (things taken for granted by those who aren’t struggling to get by). This poem, more than the others about hopes and dreams that have been put off out of necessity and survival, really brought home the point about what can happen when we put these things — large and small — on hold in order to attend to the day-to-day realities of living.

I also particularly enjoyed the poem “Mellow.” This poem struck me not because of its subject matter, but because of the imagery and the beauty of the language itself:

Into the laps
of black celebrities
white girls fall
like pale plums from a tree
beyond a high tension wall
wired for killing
which makes it
more thrilling. (405)

It definitely embodies some of the underlying tensions running throughout the collection — tensions surrounding race and sexuality. However, it isn’t one of the poems that focuses on Harlem (as so many of these poems do) or on what it means to be an average Joe living in Harlem in the post-WWII era of financial strain, racial discrimination, and everyday dangers.

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