Dream Boogie Analysis by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was greatly influenced by the theory of ‘double-consciousness’ proposed by W. E. B. DuBois, the first African-American to earn a doctorate. Hughes and DuBois were contemporaries, and both played major leading roles during the Harlem Renaissance. Thus, this kind of mutual influence-sharing was only natural.

DuBois’ theory said that African-Americans resented being discriminated against on the basis of their skin colour by the dominant white population in America, and felt it was unfair not to be given equal opportunities as them. However, at the same time, African-Americans also idealized the whites, and longed for the same standard of living they enjoyed. Therefore, all African-Americans were caught in the dilemma of choosing between rejecting the majority-white population out and out, and wanting greater assimilation with that same population in hopes of bettering their lives. As a result, a strange mix of happiness and melancholy – happiness at having made it to “the homeland of the free” (as Hughes calls America in his poem, ‘Let America be America Again’), and melancholy at being left poverty-stricken, and unemployed or underpaid by the civilization that considered them primitive – is experienced by the African-American community on a daily basis.

This mindset of his fellowmen is what inspired Hughes to write ‘Dream Boogie’. Hence, the narrator and his friend are unable, within the space of the poem, to definitely come to a decision about the nature of the sound created by the stomping of African-Americans’ feet. They feel that it is simultaneously a happy beat, and that it disguises the disappointment at the dreams of equality that they had been promised time and again, but had in fact never been given.

There isn’t a single consistent rhyme scheme running through ‘Dream Boogie’. Only the first unit (as identified in the summary), individually, has a recognizable rhyme scheme. It follows the pattern ABCB. No other unit has such a simple and neat rhyme scheme. However, there are multiple end-rhymes within the poem, such as “feet” and “beat”, or “say” and “away”, or “pop”, “re-bop”, and “mop”.

Commentators have said that ‘Dream Boogie’ is written in the form of scat music, a form of jazz that was popular during the Harlem Renaissance. Scat music was believed to be fun and uplifting. That is exactly the facade Hughes wants to adopt here. Hughes’s community has had to take oppression from whites for centuries together with a smile on their face, since they are well aware that happy blacks are more easily accepted by the mainstream American population than are rebellious ones. In fact, whites could only hear African-American self-expression in music clubs and other entertainment venues, so it is natural for the narrator of ‘Dream Boogie’ to speak in scat, thereby giving free reign to the idea of double-consciousness that is present in his mind while still being entertaining. This is the only way he can ensure being heard, and he knows that for sure.

Twice in the poem, Hughes uses the word “ain’t”, in asking his friend whether he has heard the noise of his fellowmen’s feet. This kind of usage is typical of people of the African-American community, and shows how committed Hughes is to giving his readers a faithful rendition of the ways and means of his own community.

By ending ‘Dream Boogie’ with the words “Hey, pop!/ Re-bop!/ Mop!”, Hughes is doing two things. Firstly, he is trying to exhibit how the happiness of African-Americans, living in conditions of extreme poverty, is not sarcasm, but a form of endurance. Secondly, he is imitating the sound of a parade, which is the subject-matter of the next poem in Montage of a Dream Deferred. Both this, and the echoing of the words “dream deferred” within ‘Dream Boogie’ can be better appreciated if readers keep in mind the fact that Hughes meant all the poems in Montage of a Dream Deferred as a continuum, not just as individual pieces.

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