Another "Theme for English B"
Montage of a Dream Deferred is Langston Hughes's multivoiced, fragmented poem about Harlem at midcentury. Published in 1951, it contains some of Hughes's finest poetry-a terse, poetic version of be-bop filled with complex rhythms,
improvisations, and shifts in mood that echoes the intricate timbre of life in Harlem, the black capital of the United States. Some of Hughes's most famous lines are from Montage-including the gnomic "Harlem" and its question "What happens to a dream deferred?" Part of Montage is a quiet musical interlude, where a Columbia University student writes his "Theme for English B" (Rampersad 1994, 409-10). There are probably some autobiographical dimensions to the poem, as Hughes had been one of very few black students at Columbia in 1921. But his own autobiography is unimportant to this poem; his stay at Columbia was brief as he left in 1922 for Harlem, Europe, Lincoln University, the world, and a career that lasted until 1967. More important, the narrator is every black student asked to imagine the self and write about it.