Dreams in Harlem & The Great Gatsby: What Happens When Deferred?

In both the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, multiple common themes arise from the texts. In the novel, the American dream is often referred to, as well as individual dreams, both that are swept under the rug and left to be forgotten. This is exactly what is explained in Hughes’ poem; the fact that dreams that are postpones end up dying where they are left. No dream will wait for you to catch your breath, you have to work hard towards your goal to achieve it.

Both authors express that all dreams die in one way or another.

In Langston Hughes’s poem, “Harlem”, he begins by asking an important question; “What happens to a dream deferred?”. In simpler terms, this means, what will happen to your dream if you postpone making it happen? What happens if you hold off working towards your dream? Well, to answer the question, Hughes offers several different alternative paths.

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Firstly, you dream can dry up, meaning it will no longer by full of energy and life. It will just be the shell of what it used to be. Secondly, it could fester, literally meaning it will become more intense through long-term neglect. Your last options are for your dreams to stink, become sweet, sag, or explode. The author of the poem uses the metaphor of a dream exploding to express how it disappears instantly, and there is no way to get it back, because it has been destroyed.

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“They had spent a year in France, for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together. This was a permanent move, ...but I didn't believe it—I had no sight into Daisy's heart but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking a little wistfully for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.” (Fitzgerald). Here Nick explains how Tom and Daisy ‘unrestfully’ moved to the eggs after spending some time in France. It is apparent that neither Tom or Daisy were following their dreams by moving here, and they would both let their dreams slowly die and “fester like a sore” (Hughes). Tom was a star football player in college, but is now moved into a normal life in the eggs, “wherever people played polo and were rich together”. This is a sad turn of events because he is, just like Daisy, letting his dreams dry up.

A commonly represented dream from the early decades of the 1900s was, of course, the American dream. This specific quote describes the conversation shared between Gatsby and Nick in the car on the way to New York as Gatsby told Nick that his family fortune is a lie. “‘Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,’ I thought; ‘anything at all. . . .’ Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder.” (Fitzgerald). By saying this, he is expressing that New York is the land of opportunities, and if anyone could make a fortune there, it would be Gatsby. Anything can happen in New York, it was their dream. This dream directly represents the American dream; “the idea that US citizens can achieve success through hard work”. This dream of theirs was most similar to the simile used in “Harlem”, asking if it would “crust and sugar over- like a syrupy sweet?”, I think that Gatsby’s goal to achieve his own prosperity was sweet because he made it to New York, where dreams are born.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Dreams in Harlem & The Great Gatsby: What Happens When Deferred?. (2022, Apr 18). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/common-question-what-happens-to-a-dream-deferred-in-poems-harlem-by-langston-hughes-and-the-great-gatsby-by-f-scott-fitzgerald-essay

Dreams in Harlem & The Great Gatsby: What Happens When Deferred? essay
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