Jeremy Eng 104 Professor miller October 16, 2012 The poem “Mother to Son”, by Langston Hughes, is an inspiring poem. It is the epitome of what every parent should instill within their child and that is the success of our children. Langston Hughes was born in 1902 and was a well-known poet during the Harlem Renaissance. His poems were not personalized but spoke for all African Americans alike. In this poem there is significant meaning from a loving mother to her son through language, metaphors, imagery repetition and symbolism.
The advice given in this poem is that life is like climbing stairs, it is not easy and sometimes you will stumble but you get back up and keep climbing those stairs. The poem is about a mother’s advice to her son about life and how it isn’t easy. The use of an extended metaphor compares the mother’s life to a stair. “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” (Hughes 2), can mean her life has not been easy. This is in the second and last lines of the poem. The crystal stair can represent a life of comfort and lavishness, perhaps that meaning that life of the white people back in that era, 1920’s .
It contrasts with the images of suffering and poverty (bare floors, splinters, missing boards, etc. ). When using this imagery of “crystal stair”, we could imagine mother’s stairs were the complete opposite. The details of the staircase are the life in which the mother has lived. “It’s had tacks in it” (Hughes 3), “And splinters” (4), which would mean pain, agony, aching or grief. This may infer that she has had these sorts of pains throughout her life. “And boards tore up” (5), indicates damage in one’s life. The use of imagery in these lines implies the mother may have suffered pain at every step of life.
Hughes illustrates the mothers’ loneliness with “And places with no carpet on the floor”, implying it’s cold and naked making for a lonely environment. “Boards torn up” can also mean huge holes in mother’s life not making it safe for her. Without her persevering and climbing over those tor boards has gotten mother where she is today. “Bare” being on a line of its own may also signify being alone. Reaching a goal with perseverance and consistency is discussed in “But all the time/I’se been a climbin’ on/And reachin’ landins’ (Hughes 8-10). Going in the dark” (12), can represent courage, bravery and faith while “No light” (12) symbolizes an unexplored strange or unfamiliar area. Mother becomes stern when telling her son to never “set down on the steps” don’t give up, and “don’t turn your back” (13) or turn away from life or run from your problems. Many African American women were faced with many obstacles throughout their lives such as; Mother is setting a great example with the lines For I’se still goin’, honey, / I’se still climbin’( Hughes 18-19) even though life wasn’t easy for her , she never gave up ad she wants the same for her son.
In the 1920’s, some women were subjected to prostitution to make a living because there were no jobs available making it not only painful but a dark journey not knowing where prostitution will lead you. So just being African American for most it is much easier to just give up and not reach for our goals and climb the stairs. We need to take one step at a time through life. The language in which Langston writes the poem in is actually the way in which mother spoke to her son. This informal language creates imagery I support of the theme.
This image created by this language is a southern dialect from an African American mother, with no formal education but a lot of life experience and also paints a picture of a trustworthy mother with advice to give. Alliteration is not used much in this poem but in the line “Don’t you set down on the steps” repeats both the “s” and “d” sounds. There is repetition in the poem using the word “and” giving the feeling as you are taking on new flights of stairs in life and landing on stoops for pauses before moving on.
In conclusion, not only does this poem have significant meaning but it is very inspiring to the son and its reader with words of wisdom. Using literary tools, Hughes gives us an image of a mother who is lovingly yet firmly talking to her son about life. This guidance is simple but relevant to the poem: in order to overcome obstacles in life, we must have courage and willpower. Works Cited Hughes. Langston. “Mother to Son” www. poemhunter. com. 12 October. 2012