“Harlem” By Langston Hughes Analysis

“The short poem “Harlem” is one of many famous literary works created by Langston Hughes; Hughes was an African – American poet, social activist, and novelist. He was known for putting personal experiences into the meanings of his literary works. “Harlem” was no different in its creation to represent the struggles against racial discrimination the African American community was facing in America during the 1920’s. This essay will explore an in-depth meaning of the short but powerful, relatable, and understandable poem; All while also covering how Hughes uses metaphors, similes, and anaphora within the poem and what significance each device has.

To understand the impact and meaning of the previously mentioned literary devices, there must be a basic understanding of the poem and what message it’s getting across. “Harlem” also known under the title, “A Dream Deferred” describes giving up on your dreams and leaving the satisfying feeling of seeing your goals become accomplished go unfulfilled. The title of the poem, “”Harlem,”” implies that the specific dream was shared by a community of people; The dream of equal rights. Hughes was widely known for his literary works which shared the common theme of educating his readers on the aspects and issues faced by an African-American. “Hughes writes to remind a people who had been enslaved that their history began long before 1619…(reminding) them that their (history) is not a legacy of enslavement.” (Standish) Hughes uses common poetic and literary devices to create imagery in the poem; Created with the goal to vividly show what could happen if anyone denies their own dream and goals. For the first example, He uses similes constantly throughout the poem; The series of similes are used in the poem to compare a dream dying away due to multiple forms of a slow death, such as rotting and aging. Hughes compares the reality of giving up on achieving a dream by vividly describing it as death. The poem describes the dream’s death to a “drying raisin”, a “burning sore”, “rotten meat”, “syrup”, and a “heavy load.” (Hughes)

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Hughes use of metaphors describe what can happen to a group of people if their dreams are left for dead. The title of the poem itself can be seen as a metaphor, a reference to a time where African-American culture was beginning to have a positive light shown on it. The poem “Harlem” has been viewed as “- a public disagreement that portrayed black America itself as being in disagreement about how to best go about the notion of cultural desegregation.” (Standish) This idea was due to the ironic factor that, while yes the title references a time of which should be celebrated because their culture was being viewed with acceptance and interest, the poem itself is talking about a dream being left for dead- the very dream of not just their culture being accepted, but to identify as equal to whites. “Hughes always sought to reclaim the stage for black characters.” (Emery) As for metaphors within the poems’ text, If it “dries up like a raisin in the sun” (Hughes), the suggestion is that it has been thrown to the backburner of one’s mind and priorities. He also uses other metaphorical explanations within the poem such as “rotting like meat” (Hughes) in which these notions of death describe passage of time and a dreams’ loss of life, and loss of the inspiration that sustained it. These metaphors seem to signify how the African American people were coming to the belief that their dreams for equality becoming less and less of a reality.

The final, most noticable, literary device used within the poem is one ironically not commonly known. Hughes uses an ongoing phrase within the poem “”Does it””; It’s an example of anaphora, which is “the repetition of a word or phrase at the start of a series of sentences, phrases or clauses.” (Anaphora) Used within the poem, anaphora helps to emphasize the question, and therefore emphasize the message, making it more clear to the readers how urgent the situation at hand was and hopefully bring about action to keep the dream for equality alive. Some smaller, but still noticeable and important, literary devices are some such as alliteration, which is found in the letter D, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up…” (Hughes) The use of alliteration and Anaphora help to create a sense of rhythm, as it emphasizes the words, drawing attention to the ideas in them.

In conclusion, Langston Hughes used his skills in creating literary works to describe his significant life experienced and show readers the situations and thoughts African Americans have to face, such as giving up on the simple dream of being treated equal to others. Hughes use of literary devices are used in a way drag in reader’s attention to the messages within the poem. The devices bring the reader’s attention to the stated questions, making them further think and process the exact imagery Hughes describes. This helps readers to better visibly see the images through their blatant descriptions; The reader has a much better understanding of the extreme measures the dream itself is facing, and how dire the situation is, as it’s slowly being left for dead by its’ creator.”

Women In The Work Force: Female CEO’s

The glass ceiling is a phrase first introduced in the 1980’s, and is a metaphor for the transparent barrier that blocks women and minorities from progressing upward in the corporate world in order to obtain management and executive positions. In 1995, the Glass Ceiling Commission confirmed the presence of these barriers between women and high-level positions in a study that showed only 3 to 5 percent of senior management positions in Fortune 500 companies were held by women (Winter, 2013). Following the study, the commission shared the numerous blockades that women and minorities face in their fight for top-level positions. These blockages were described as societal, governmental, internal business, and business structural barriers (Johns, 2013, p.2). In addition, societal issues were also associated with opportunity and achievement, preconception and bias, and gender differences (p.2). Though times have progressed, the glass ceiling still has a major presence in the workforce and greatly affects the stunted growth of women CEO’s. With that being said, women are not being promoted to executive positions in part because they do not have access to the same opportunities as their male counterparts and therefor are at a disadvantage from the beginning of their careers when it comes to reaching high-level positions.

Though women are beginning to find themselves on the rise in the number of CEOs and top management positions in several US business industries, the progress is still incredibly slow. In fact, since the 1900s, women were generally not allowed to work outside of the house which made them more like property than anything else. However in those times, the job of the women was to take care of the cooking, cleaning, and childcare; all of which are full time jobs with no breaks or closing hours. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the Equal Rights Movement allowed women take on small positions in the workforce. At the early stages of this movement, women were still not accepted in most work settings, and if they were, the roles expected of them usually consisted of the tasks they were responsible for in the house: cleaning, nurturing, and cooking. By the late 1990s and early 2000s women continued to push these barriers and excelled in educations that would give them the qualifications in order to enter into male-dominated industries. Women began taking jobs at constructions companies, managing businesses, and showing their faces on television. However, still today, women in the business world that wish to reach C-Suite positions face a sexualized path that is both strenuous and daunting. This gender imbalance is based on the unequal opportunities, as well as the biases and stereotypes that play against females. In order for the US workforce to become a more equal and successful place, the country must address the causes for this imbalance and take appropriate measures in order to solve it.

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The business case for females in top level leadership positions is fascinating, as studies proved that having women in the top level management of a company has an undeniable positive impact on the businesses risk management and bottom line. This study proving women’s leadership on the bottom line was conducted by Morrison, Van Velsor, and White (Morrison, White & Van Velsor, 1994).

Adler conducted the primary empirical study that proved an impressive correlation between a company’s high profitability and their continuous history of promoting women into executive positions (Adler, 1998). His study observed the behavior of 215 Fortune 500 firms from 1980 to 1998, examining longitudinal and historical performance data. Studied were four assessments of profitability which included profits as a percent of revenues, assets, stockholders’ equity, and a firm’s competitiveness verses its competition. The results showed that the Fortune 500 firms with a large number of women executives performed better than their industry median firms in all four measurements of profitability. From this study, it was also concluded that the companies with the highest scores for promoting females were always more profitable than the companies who’s promotion scores were considered “good” as opposed to “great”(Adler, 1998, pg.4).

A study done by Catalyst in 2004 proved to have similar conclusions (Catalyst, 2004). For this study, 353 companies were assessed on the gender diversity in their top level management in accordance to their financial performance. These companies were evaluated in five different divisions: consumer discretionary, consumer staples, financial, industrial, and information technology or telecommunications services. In addition, return on equity (ROE) and total return to shareholders (TRS) were used to evaluate the companies. The results pointed out a coordination between gender diversity in top management and high financial performance. The firms with the largest number of females on their top management boards faced better financial performance than the firms with a lower female presence. In conclusion, the companies ROE was 35 percent higher, and their TRS was 34 percent higher.

The question is, with such convincing evidence linking positive financial performance and strong gender diversity in top tier management, why are women still struggling to close the gender gap in executive level positions?

As mentioned before, the Glass Ceiling Commission report of 1995 recognized societal, governmental, internal business, and business structural barriers that were preventing females from progressing into senior and executive management positions (Glass Ceiling Commission, 1995). In addition, these barriers continue to be the leading issues women face when trying to reach top level positions. The United States offer nearly no established aid for working families, which means that the US economy suffers as women struggle to have a work-life balance (Joint Economic Committee, 2010).

When comparing the United States approach to federal paid paternal leave to the other county members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), one can see the obvious differences federal support. In most cases, the average length of job-projected leave for new parents is 18 weeks, compared to the United States’ 12 weeks. Beginning in January 2011, the United States was the only OECD nation with no required paid parental leave (Ibid., p. 16)

Another factor is the lack of flexible work schedules provided for women in the US. It is common that American women typically assumes the responsibility for early caregiving and therefore suffer from the undeveloped and underfunded early care system in the country. In addition, a women’s caregiving usually includes their aging parental figures around the time that their children are old enough to take care of themselves. This means that the role of caregiver generally lasts for the entirety of a women’s life and therefore could affect the balance between caregiving and career. For this reason, women are forced to leave their careers and give their full attention to the care of loved ones (Ibid., p. 19). This “off-ramping” causes women to pay a high penalty when considering their careers because they are no longer considered for promotional opportunities. In addition, if they do choose to re-enter the workforce, they face difficulties in progressing in the company, both in promotion and earning power in comparison to their male coworkers (Center For Work-Life Policy, 2010).

Furthermore, the wage pay gap continues to be a reality for women in the United States. The Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress found that discriminatory wage differences in organizations is only one of the contributing aspects to the gender wage gap (US Congress Joint Economic Committee, 2010). When talking about healthcare, in 2006 ACHE found that 29 percent of women said they did not receive fair compensation because of their gender. In the year 2000, 43 percent of women felt they did not receive compensation because if their gender

In the same analysis, ACHE found that 86 percent of males see only gender equality in the workforce, whereas only 69 percent of women feel that there is gender equality in their work environment. In the healthcare industry, females still argue that they are not welcome in internal networks that are crucial for promotional opportunities. “Men continue to interact with other executives informally to a greater extent than women do. For example, 48 percent of men compared to 33 percent of women have lunch with other managers at least monthly”(American College of Healthcare Executives, 2006).

It is also states that the difference in confidence and career ambitions among men and women is partially responsible for the inequality at senior level positions. A study conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management showed that women managers are negatively affected in their careers by lower motivations and expectations (Institute of Leadership and Management, 2011). Sadly, it has been found that females generally have lower self-confidence and self-belief than men. This then leads to a lower amount of risk taking and more conscious career decisions which ends up holding them in lower level positions. Generally, it takes women three years to move into management positions, this being in comparison to their male counterparts, who have higher career expectations and more self-confidence. An ACHE study conducted in 2006 ACHE report stated that 40 percent of women reporting that they wished to reach CEO positions as where 70 percent of men had this goal. This concluded that women have lower career aspirations (American College of Healthcare Executives, 2013).

Another major issue for women is that they generally lack a helpful sponsor that will tirelessly promote their abilities to important figures in the company that could help them reach higher level positions. In 2009, a study observed Intel, Morgan Stanley, American Express and Deloitte and found that women do not give enough importance to the necessity of being sponsored and or fail to reach for those opportunities. This could be because women feel that using connections in order to rise in the company is inappropriate and therefore it could potentially be misinterpreted as sexual interest between and female employee and male sponsor (WIAnyc, 2011).

Another dilemma for women lies in gender communication differences and gender stereotypes. Gender typecasts penalized women for being either too assertive, independent and competitive, or too little (Carli, 2006). Women’s general style of communication if less direct and more calm than that of men’s and this can lower perceptions about their abilities. On the other hand if a women shows too much confidence or assertiveness her likability may decrease. In addition, the abilities of women are judged more harshly than men’s. “People hold women to a higher standard of competence and evaluating female managers and leaders more critically than their male counterparts” (Ibid., p. 77).

Finding equality in the workplace requires action in many key places. Primarily, these needs to start with the federal government, academic institutions, employers, and the actions of women themselves.

The government can promote gender equality by raising awareness of the vast equalities in the workforce, the benefits that gender equality brings to an organization, and the direct affect that diversity has on the nation as a whole. Discriminatory practices and gender barriers can be helped used governmental policy and legislation. In addition, enforcing the existing legislation that were set in place in order to stop discrimination needs to be honored more than it is today.

Employers are also responsible for breaking down these barriers and should follow programs that have CEO support, are inclusive, highlight accountability, track progress, and direct tackle preconceptions and stereotypes. Companies can create targets for female presence on their boards, committees, and top level management. They can also take part in helping women find recruitment by offering outreach programs. It is also crucial for employers to offer flexible schedules and work-life balance polices so that women feel that they can remain in the workplace while building a life at home. The creation of mentoring programs is also important in order for women to meet the right people, find promotion, and climb the ladder to higher positions. Lastly, these programs should award the successful leaders, both male and female, in order to build mentorship that will increase the aspirations of women and map out goals that will push their career forward.


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  2. US Congress Joint Economic Committee. Invest in Women, Invest in America: A Comprehensive Review of Women in the U.S. Economy.
  3. Women in Architecture. “The Sponsorship Effect: Why Qualified Women Don’t Make It to the Corner Office.” Available at http://wianyc.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/the-sponsor-effect-why-qualified-women-dont-make-it-to-the-corner-office-vault-career-guide/ (accessed April 18, 2019)
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  11. US Congress Joint Economic Committee. Invest in Women, Invest in America: A Comprehensive Review of Women in the U.S. Economy.
  12. Catalyst. The Bottom Line: Connecting Corporate Performance and Gender Diversity. 2004. Available at http://www.catalyst.org/publication/82/the-bottom-line-connecting-corporate-performance-and-gender-diversity (accessed April 20, 2019)
  13. American College of Healthcare Executives. A Comparison of Career Attainments of Men and Women Healthcare Executives. December 2006. Available at http://www.ache.org/pubs/research/gender_study_full_report.pdf (accessed April 1, 2019).
  14. US Department of Labor, Federal Glass Ceiling Commission. Good for Business: Making Full Use of the Nation’s Human Capital, pp. 26–36

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