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“Dreams”: Critical Detailed Analysis And Summary  


Langston Hughes (author of Dreams) claimed Paul Dunbar Lawrence, Walt Whitman, and Carl Sandberg as his primary literary influence and he is particularly known for his portrayal of black life in America from the roaring twenties into the sixties. Critic Donald B. Gibson noted in the introduction to Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays that Hughes “differed from most of his predecessors among black poets…”

“…during the 20s when most American poets were turning inward, writing obscure and esoteric poetry to an ever decreasing audience of readers, Hughes was turning outward, using language and theme, attitudes and ideas familiar to anyone who had the ability to read”

Hughes was the central figure in the Harlem Renaissance movement, the flowering of black intellectual, literary and artistic life that took place in the 1920s in a number of American cities, particularly Harlem. He sought to honestly portray the hardships of the working class black live, avoiding both sentimental and negative stereotypes.

Evidently, most of his poems embody his ideologies, including poems like Harlem to be Answered, Dreams Deferred and Dreams.

Rhyme Scheme

The poem Dreams follows the ABCB rhyme scheme, thereby talking about dream and their values. The poem can be interpreted as any ordinary motivator and a second interpretation can be derived out of Langton Hughes’ aim to emancipate and uplift the blacks as he himself tate in The Negro Artit and the Racial Mountain:

“Most of my own poems are racial in theme and treatment, derived from the life I know. ”

Poem Analysis

The poem revolves around the central idea of dreams and their significance in every individual’s life. In the first stanza, the poet asks his readers to hold fast to dreams for if dreams fade away or die life is equivalent to a bird with broken wings that cannot fly. Its significance is thereby lost.

In the second stanza, the poet poses another con when we let go of dreams. Life becomes an infertile barren field covered with snow and incapable of growth and development.  Dreams are used as a sort of  ‘mechanism’  for defying and challenging the external reality especially when one stands helpless and hapless towards controlling this reality.

He uses repetition in the foreground and reinstates his idea. His choice of words becomes interesting- while “when” is a more solid concept than “if,” “go,” is gentler than the first stanza’s “die.” The gentler tone of “go” for “when dreams” vanish indicates a more gradual and easy process, something that can simply happen over time to allow for acceptance or expectation of the departure.

A second interpretation lies in Hughes’ constant effort to uplift and emancipate black lives. Hence when he talks about ‘dreams’ he primarily focuses on the American Dream concept. Blacks were promised dreams of equality and equity but those dreams were never fulfilled. Despite legal, political, and social consensus to abolish the apartheid, black people could never experience indiscriminate society.

When dreams die people are left between hope and hopelessness. The dreams of equality and equal opportunities were deferred under years of oppression, abuse, uncertainty and injustice. Hughes, therefore, urges the readers not to lose sight of dreams which are lawfully theirs and which they deserve. He expresses a similar thought process in his essay “The Negro Artist and the racial Mountain”-

“We young Negro Artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased, we are glad, if not it doesn’t matter.”

Literary Devices

 A lot of literary devices have been used to convey the message of the poem. Hughes uses a metaphor and compares life to a broken-winged bird that cannot fly when dreams are let gone of. He also compares life to a barren field covered with snow. Hughes also uses repetition to reinstate his idea revolving around his concept of dream.


 What is the message of ‘Dreams’ by Langston Hughes?

The poem Dreams by Langston Hughes imparts a simple message, that is not to give up on dreams and goals, or life will be broken, stagnant and meaningless. The poem revolves around the central idea of dreams and their significance in every individual’s life.

What literary devices are used in dreams by Langston Hughes?

In the poem “dream” by Langston Hughes, the poet uses metaphors and personification to convey his message to the readers. Hughes used the literary devices to get to the theme “keep aiming for your dreams.”

What kind of poem is Dreams by Langston Hughes?

“Dreams” by Langston Hughes is a two-stanza poem with an ABCB rhyme scheme that highlights the value of “dreams” by presenting two    situations that revolve around the loss of those “dreams.” Hughe’s constant effort to uplift and emancipate black lives is reflected in the poem. Hence when he talks about ‘dreams’ he primarily focuses on the American Dream concept.