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Analysis of ‘As I Grew Older’ by Langston Hughes

As I Grew Older

James Mercer Langston Hughes became the voice of black America in the 1920s even as a young poet. His first published poems made him famous. He was a novelist, poet, play wright and a columnist. Most of his poems were lyrical poems.  The strain of racism is seen in most of his poems. He had a pessimistic approach to racial relations. He focused on the working class and wrote about them.  He wrote about the African Americans and wanted other artists of his time to be unafraid to write about racial discrimination. He writes in the essay ‘The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain’, “I am ashamed for the black poet who says, ‘I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet,’ as though his own racial world were not as interesting as any other world.” The writer, for whom race permeated all his works died, in 1967 leaving behind voluminous work.

‘As I Grew Older’ is about the dream that never saw the light. There is no mention about what the dream was but all know that it was the dream for a better world for his African brethren. He is writing as if he was an old man, for he says that he had a dream ‘long time ago’. Now he had almost forgotten the dream. But then it was clear in his mind, it shone like the sun in front of him. But as days passed a wall slowly rose between him and the dream. The wall grew so high that it seemed to be touching the sky. Now the light from his dream was completely blocked and he was standing in the shadow of the wall. The wall was high above him; not only was the wall high, it was thick too. The shadow too was thick and overpowering.Towards the end of the poem the poet drops off his submissive acceptance and becomes determined to do something. There is a shift in the energy. He wishes that with his dark hands he could break the wall, smash and shatter the darkness and reach out to the light. The poet imagines that once the wall is broken his dreams would be liberated and would soon see the light, would soon be a reality.

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‘As I Grew Older’ is a free verse with twenty nine lines. There is only one stanza and there is no specific rhyme scheme in this poem. To make it lyrical there are repetitions of words like sun, rose, wall, shadow, slowly and dream.This is a poem that starts on a low note and ends with a ‘smash and a shatter’ of the notions and thoughts held thus far. The poet had a dream where he saw all men as equal, without discrimination against colour, race or sex. But that dream was shelved, for nothing was going his way and a huge wall of reality shut out his dreams. But he was not willing to take it anymore and wanted to shatter all stereotypes and take his men to land of sun. This is the tone of the poem. The imagery is that of light and darkness where light stands for optimism and goodness, while darkness symbolizes pessimism and hatred. The ‘wall’which is thick, strong, huge and dark is used as ametaphor to denote all the racial discrimination seen in the society. ‘As I Grew Older’ epitomises the nature of Hughes where he wanted all the poets to fight for the cause of racial discrimination; that was his dream and he wanted that dream to become a reality.