Plight of Blacks in Toomers’ “Portrait in Georgia” and Hughes’s “Dream variations” and “Dream Deferred”

The plight of Blacks in Toomers’ “Portrait in Georgia” and Hughes’s “Dream variations” and

Dream Deferred


This paper makes an attempt to analyze plight of blacks in Toomer’s “Portrait in Georgia,” and Hughes’s “Dream Variations” & “Dream Deferred“. Toomer, in his very poem, he mingles the image of a beautiful ash like a white woman with that of a lynched black man.

Similarly, Hughes in his poems shows the derogative pains of workers who are compelled to work day and night without rest and sense of freedom. On the other hand, he also shows the postponement of blacks’ dreams and sentiments. Both the poets try to depict the tormented, painful and corpse-like life of African-American blacks during the transition phase of America or Harlem Renaissance. In the poem, ‘Dream Deferred‘ Hughes ponders a lot and poses numerous questions about the dream of blacks. He asked what a dream might be if it is suppressed and postponed by the whites and their authority. Therefore, the researcher tries to show the oppression felt by black in the post-slavery south and their unfulfilled dreams through these poems.

Harlem Renaissance

Toomers' "Portrait in Georgia" and "Dream variations" and "Dream Deferred"

Though Harlem Renaissance brings changes in the social, political, cultural, economic and literary phases, it can’t bring changes in the hegemony of whites to blacks’ and other inferiors. Blacks are the optimum victim of its segregation into north and south. In this sense, due to the institutionalization of slavery in the southern part, a large number of blacks are enslaved to make them work until they are in their last breath. Toomer, in the line, “…the last sweet scent of cane” suggests that wean who symbolizes black man is taking the last breath before the lynching. All the blacks are living painful life and are made to lynch if they are unable to satisfy the whites. In the same way, Hughes says, “…rest at cool evening, beneath a tall tree” they don’t get chance to have rest for a while. As a result, they feel tired and monotonous for continuous work for their survival and they dream as that of night.

The south has enslaved the Africans and forced them to work in the field without rest. Because of their continuous dealing with the raw materials and agricultural goods like sugarcane, south is agriculturally developing but their condition is becoming “like a raisin in the sun. In spite of enslavement and continuous work, they want to be free in which they can stretch their arms, fly and dance like an aimless bird in the sky. So, Hughes has a dream, “To fling my arms wide. Dance whirl! And whirl! , to roam freely in open spaces from the white’s hegemony and brutality.

Hair­­­­­­­­­­-braided chestnut

Coiled like a lyncher’s rope


Lips-old scars, or the first red blisters

Toomer’s use of various images in his poem gives the true suffering of blacks. There is the vast difference between the Americans and African Americans. African Americans are discriminated in tars of gender, race, and color. Toomer, “Hair-braided chestnut, coiled like a lyncher’s rope not only describes the chestnut color like the hair of the image but shows the boundary line between the white and black people and also the ale and Feale in terms of racial and gender line. Blacks are segregated and hegemonies on the basis of sexual ostentation and race. “Eyes-fagots”  gives the true picture of blacks suffering and their killing. Blacks in the south who are unable to work continuously and who try to escape towards the north are lynched setting them on the fire. Their case in more different than the case of German-Jews who also killed by compelling to walk in the Gas chamber. Some of the blacks are whipped and beaten in such a way that the old marks of skin resemble as their first blisters. Toomer, “Lips-old scars, or the first red blisters,”  says that due to the violence and torture of whites, the blacks are unable to bear and even forget the pain. By using the metaphorical comparison of lips with that of wands, Toomer tries to show the violated and tormented life of African Americans in white’s supremacy.

The last lime of Toomer, “And her slim body, white as the ash of black flesh after flame”  simply shows the changing of black flesh into white ash after burning. But in the deeper sense, he wants to say that the enslaved slaves of Africa have to face death by firing in which their black flesh changes into white ash. Toomer, by squishing two colors white and black into white-ash gives the pathetic killing scene of blacks slaves in America. By emasculating victim’s body, feminizing it and turning it white ash, he also gives the vivid picture of violence towards blacks.

Toomers' Portrait in Georgia and Dream variations and Dream Deferred



On the other hand, Hughes in his poem “Dream Variation” shows the dream of the worker who is working continuously without having rest and experiencing freedom and peace. In his beautifully crafted poem, in 1st stanza he feels very nostalgic towards his carefree life which he enjoyed in the past:


To whirl and to dance,

Till the wh

ite day is doe.

The rest at cool evening

Beneath a tall tree.In the past, when he is in his own homeland he has the carefree life. He roams aimlessly as if he dances round and round by resting under the tall trees. But now he is under the pressure and domination of whites where he has to work continuously. So, he wishes for days to be same he has experienced in the past. He feels very sad and painful towards the brutality of whites in America where he can’t experience freedom and have rest. Despite his restlessness, he has given neither time to rest nor the shadow of the tree even in ‘pale evening’. All the dreams that he has seen rained incomplete. Hughes in America can’t see the possibility of fulfilling his dream and wishes. All the things appear to him seems pale and black as night due to his tedious work. His dreams, “To fling my arms wide, in the face of the sun” to be free from work remains incomplete rather he has to be busy in his work I the scorching rays of the sun which he wants to cover by his hand. Due to his busy life the ‘cool evening’  where the rest becomes ‘pale evening’ and the ‘night’ which come ‘gently’ come ‘tenderly’ where he can’t distinguish himself the night. Hence, in his 1st stanza, he pours his nostalgia of peace and freedom in Africa but in the 2nd stanza, he demonstrates the loss and sadness of incomplete dreams due to the brutality of whites in America.

Similarly, in the poem “Dream Deferred”, Hughes gives the ample consequences for postponing the dream of African-Americans by the white authority holders. In the poem, he wants to express his anxiety over his deferred dreams as they relate to his soured aspirations. During the emancipation proclamation various dreams of freedom, peace, wages, responsibilities etc… are shown to the blacks, but as a result, they are derived from any of the promises.

It shows that the proclamation of 1863 also cannot fulfill the dreams of the blacks till the civil war rather all the dreads are accumulated into one and becomes “just sags…like a heavy load which is about to ‘explode’.

Hughes, by portraying only the negative possibilities of the dream deferred he shows his fear rather than hope. He also speculates that deferred dreams may ‘dry’, ‘fester’, ‘stink’, ‘sag’ or ‘explode’. He never supposes that his dream may wait patiently and without damage. He also thinks and has experienced the death of his different dreams. Each death of a dream is agonizing in its own way but the last possibility is the worst. And he threatens that if a person whose dream is deferred loses all hope, he might explode with despair. Actually, he shows the death of the dreams which are seen by the black about their life and future.

To sum up, both the representative and influential poets of Harlem renaissance depict the painful and unbelievable life of Negroes in America. Due to extreme exploitation and discrimination of the whites, blacks are unable to fulfill their dreams and are living the life without the soul. Toomer’s use of negative words like ‘scars’, ‘blisters’, and ‘ash’ also add much more painful and torturous life of blacks. Though the blacks are made compelled to work for their benefits by whites they used to desire and have the dream to be free but their dreams get postponed. Hughes also warns that if the dreams are postponed they may become a sag and may explode one day.


Dhan Bdr. Bam


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