Often times, people encounter problems in their lives and need advice and inspiration in order to maintain a sense of optimism. By utilizing figurative language and imagery, Langston Hughes’s poem, “Mother to Son,” illustrates the theme that regardless of the struggles individuals may encounter in their lives, he or she should possess the will power and strength to live resiliently and persevere through adversities with dignity and courage. The speaker’s nurturing tone further compliments the theme, as the mother in the poem is teaching her son a vital message that he must understand and fully integrate into his mindset if he wants to succeed in life. In the first stanza, the speaker is reflecting on her life and the difficulties that she encountered in her lifetime.
Discussing how her life “ain’t been no crystal stair” exemplifies how she experienced stressful situations in order to reach a comfortable place in her own skin, as the crystal stair represents an unproblematic and straightforward path to affluence. The word “crystal” is particularly used to allow the audience to visualize the lavishness and clarity of this path. She contrasts this path with the coarse one she undertook, which included a myriad of obstacles such as the “tacks” and “splinters” she mentions that she had to overcome.
Words like “tacks” and “splinters” are usually given a negative connotation. Additionally, the “carpet on the floor” represents protection from these obstacles, since carpet is soft and provides individuals with comfort. Unfortunately, she was deprived of this luxury, and had to face them “bare” with no comfort whatsoever. Also, based on the time period in which the poem was written, it can be assumed that she experienced racial discrimination which further contributed to her hardships. This creates the image of woman in a cold, unfamiliar world, and depicts the isolation she must have felt, as well as the misfortune that plagued her life, yet she persevered and carried on.