In the work of Langston Hughes, a poet and Jacob Lawrence, a painter, dreams are presented as being like breath, as if they are part of life. Hughes’ poems discuss the need for poems to live whilst presenting his own dream of equality, whilst Lawrence presents his dream of finding love whilst demonstrating how it is possible to achieve our dreams. In this essay I will discuss their different presentations of dreams and compare the examples of their work, whilst analysing the messages of what dreams mean.
Langston Hughes’ discusses dreams as an important part of who we are. In Dreams says:
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
He uses ‘barren’ and ‘frozen’ as they are words which mean dead and without life. These words are used to reflect the idea that without dreams we are also barren and frozen. Hughes’ message is that without dreams, life is barren and frozen – empty of life. Hughes uses the metaphor of a life without dreams as being a “broken-winged bird.” If a bird is unable to fly, it is unable to survive and Hughes uses this as a very literal idea that without dreams, we are unable to live.
In Dream Deferred, Hughes discusses the idea that an un-achieved dream can have a negative effect on a person, and that if something goes unresolved then it can lead to inner-conflict:
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over
like a syrupy sweet?
The poem talks about a forgotten dream as if it is rotting away. In Dreams, Hughes discusses are need for dreams and Dream Deferred details their effect on us if we don’t achieve them. Hughes refers to an unachieved dream as being a “heavy load” and this reflects the idea that we carry around a feeling of failure when we don’t achieve a dream. The final line, “Or does it just explode?” confirms the idea of negative feeling by comparing it to a violent image.
Jacob Lawrence presents dreams as being related to everyday life. Aspirations (the title of his painting) link to dreams that people hope to achieve in their lives. In Aspirations, a man and a woman are sat at a table. The man is reading a newspaper and the woman wears a red dress. Her dress is red because red is the colour of blood and blood runs through us and keeps us alive. By giving her this colour, she represents his love. He is dressed in grey and black because she is still a dream that he has not yet achieved. The red flower represents their love as red is the colour of passion. The flower is growing up and looks strong which shows their love is also strong. Lawrence is saying that his dream is to fall in love with a woman and she will keep him alive and healthy. He uses symbols to represent the dream like picture as in dreams, things are symbols of meaning for what we really want in life. The room is quite empty which shows that he dreams of having the important things like love, not other things that are less-important. Outside, the window shows a basic scene of everyday life happening and continues the idea that it does not matter if you aren’t rich, if you have the things you really want. This is shown through the everyday nature of the scene, suggesting that it is not unobtainable and that people do find love every day.
This idea is shown in Hughes’ poem Dream Variations. In this poem/dream, the poet wants to enjoy the last of the sun for the day before it the night turns it all “black like me.” In the poem, the poet is like a child, saying he wants
To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
The poet refers to day as being “white” and the night as being “black” and it suggests that the poet dreams of being able to be carefree without the fear of his colour having a negative connection. The poet dreams of white and black people being the same. His reference to night being “black” shows his idea that night, as a dangerous time to be walking alone, is in contrast to the evening being “pale”, a time where people enjoy walking in the last of the day’s light. This repeats the negative black verses the positive white and his desire for the two to be the same.
Both Lawrence and Hughes present dreams as being connected to real life and as being important parts of life and are what make us more human. Hughes says that without dreams, we would be dead or ‘barren.’ Lawrence tells us his dream of human equality in Dream Variations whilst Hughes symbolises his dream of finding love in Aspirations. The message from both Lawrence and Hughes is that dreams are an important part of what makes us feel alive, that it is important to achieve our dreams and that they represent our inner-most desires.