Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year, New Dreams

Happy New Year's Eve, everybody! All afternoon I've been toiling away at my honors project for English class. This class is hands-down my favorite class in a long time: 20th Century American Masters. Three mornings a week, I get to start my day off in the company of the brilliant minds of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, John Steinbeck, and countless other geniuses. If only I really were on the streets of Paris with the "Lost Generation" sipping coffee.

This semester, we've read classics like Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises," Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," and a handful of poems from the Harlem Renaissance, Southern Gothic stories, and some Carl Sandburg too. What was interesting is that while all these stories spanned from writers throughout a century and across the world, there were several major themes that threaded through all of them. For our end-of-semester project, we had to pick a theme and make a presentation to the class about how that theme runs through the various texts we've read, and why that theme was significant to 20th Century America.

I chose [bah budah bah!] dreaming, and only now as I was sitting at my laptop trying to think of some New Year's blessing, greeting, hello, whatever you may call it, did I realize that this connected perfectly with the theme of our blog! What better time to make a dream than at the beginning of a new year? (I really am always's dangerous when we travel because sometimes I get so caught up with this world inside my head that I am unaware of what's going on around me––native city folk aren't too patient.)

 The "thesis," I guess you could call it, of my presentation is Langston Hughes' poem, "Harlem," (also known as "Dream Deferred"/"A Dream Deferred"). We analyzed the poem as a class, and I used this to help me connect each dream that Hughes describes in his poem to a dream that one of the characters we met this semester had. I found this cool Nike commercial that used a reading of the poem as a voiceover, but I put the words beneath it too, in case you're like me and have to read something to fully appreciate it.

"A Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

What happens to a dream delayed? Does it change or die, like a dried up raisin? Does it "fester like a sore," and infect you? Becoming dangerous? Does it "stink like rotten meat?" Does it have an expiration date and eventually spoil? Does it eventually go bad? Or does the dream "crust and sugar over--like a syrupy sweet." Syrupy sweets are addictive, but they're empty calories. They never fill you up. Maybe the dream just stays the same. Maybe it's like a heavy load that sags and weighs you down. Or does it explode? Does the pressure eventually build up so much that it finally explodes? 

This poem was unique to America in the 20th century. America was–and still is, but uniquely was at the time–the land of opportunity. For the first time, dreams could become reality. If you worked hard enough, you could "make it" in the world. Social class lines were blurred. You were in control of your own destiny. People began to question their lives; they didn't just accept them. They spoke up for themselves. African-Americans began to have a voice ("Any Human to Another" by Countee Cullen, "If We Must Die" by Claude McKay, "Theme for English B" by Langston Hughes). 

We Americans are fortunate to live in a country where it's possible to achieve our dreams and speak our mind. Think about 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai, a young Pakistani girl, who was almost killed for supporting education for girls. Yet, even she followed her dream, despite the risks. 

Don't delay your dreams. Don't let them dry up, fester, or spoil. Don't let them just hang there, useless. Don't let the pressure build up so much that they explode, because you never know what the explosion could trigger. Don't let your dream get too sweet. There's no better time than a new year today. You don't have to wait until a new year to tackle that dream. Tackle it today.


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