What Is The Main Idea Of Harlem By Langston Hughes

General Overview

Langston Hughes’ well-known poem ‘Harlem’ is part of his larger work titledMontage of a Dream Deferred. It was published in 1951, in a collection of poetryabout the African-American experience. The poem is structured with two stanzaand the repetition of the brilliant word ‘What’ to give it a sense of inherent storytelling. This repetition is used to create a feeling of suspense and a sense of unanswered questions. The poem’s main message is of struggle and hardship due to the effects of oppression, poverty, and unfulfilled dreams.

Historical Context

The poem was created during a significant period of time in America. This was the peak of the Jim Crow Laws, a set of state and local laws in the United States enacted between 1876 and 1965. Jim Crow Laws sought to codify the discrimination and injustices faced by the African-American community through devaluing and segregation of their rights.Although the poem’s main message is one of struggle, it contains a lot of underlying messagesthat still holds relevance today. It is a reminder that although things have changed, the African-American plight has still not been fulfilled.

Meaning of the Poem

The title of the poem itself, “Harlem,” is indicative of the poem’s overall attitude, referring to the harsh atmosphere of Black America and the narrow path to freedom and opportunity. Hughes communicates his core message by exploring theconcept of a “dream deferred,” a dream that can take many shapes, from freedom to success to love. No matter what kind of dream it is, Hughes explores the feelings of longing and disappointment when it is not realized.
The poem also raises many questions in regards to the African-American experience. Hughes aims to create an awareness of the oppression through exploring the power dynamics ofrace in a very poetic and artistic way. He is aware that there is an “inherent struggle” and the poem conveys a deeper message of the sacrifices of people to stand up for their identities and their inalienable rights.

Structure of the Poem

Hughes’s poem is written in two stanzas, each consisting of eleven lines. There is a repetition of the word “What” at the beginning of each stanza, reflecting the theme of dreams deferred. By repeating the word, it builds up a sense of anticipation or a yearning for resolution, while, at the same time, demonstrating the impossibility of resolution. Each line of the poem poses a question, making the poem very interactive and allowing the reader to imagine different potential answers.

Modern Relevance

Although much has changed in the intervening years, the poem is as poignant and relevant today as it was when Hughes wrote it. The message that is to be derived from the poem is still relevant in today’s society, where economic inequality and institutional racism still exist. A lot of the issues that Hughes addresses in his poem, such as racial injustice, socioeconomic inequality and government power dynamics, still have yet to be resolved. The poem is still relevant today because it speaks to the ongoing struggle for racial equality, something that has yet to be achieved in the United States.

Language of the Poem

The language of Langston Hughes’ poem is poetic yet powerful. He speaks ofdeferred dreams that sag and rot and evokes powerful images with simple words. Hebrings the reader into the harsh realities of African American life while retainingsome sense of hope. He uses literary devices including similes, hyperbole and metaphor to convey the deeper meaning of his poetry. Hughes instills his words with a sense of hopelessness but also optimism, ensuring that his poem remains relevant to this day.


Langston Hughes’ poem ‘Harlem’ is a successful poem that conveys the plight of African-Americans. His language paints vivid pictures and his message has been resonating for many years. The poem uses repetition of the word ‘What’ as a constant reminder of all the unanswered questions and struggles of the African-American experience. The poem explores the power dynamics of race and its impact on dreams, giving readers an insightful look into the fight for equality. Finally, the poem sheds light on the reality of oppression and shows a sense of hope for a better future.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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