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Mother to Son by Langston Hughes Essay

“Mother to Son”, published in 1922 by Langston Hughes, was one of the most famous poems he had written. Hughes was African-American and was born in 1902. While living in the 1900’s Hughes and his family experienced the hardships of racism, discrimination, and slavery. Therefore, this poem is not only words of encouragement from a mother to a son, but also words of encouragement to the entire African American community. This poem of inspiration let the community know that the difficulties that they all had to endure at the time were felt by all and that they were not alone in the struggle. Hughes wrote this from the standpoint of a mother encouraging her son to keep going no matter what hardships he may experience. She explained that life is hard and he is not the only one who has had to endure the experience of life’s hard lessons.

The poem passes on a message from a mother to her son instructing him that he must remain optimistic despite the obstacles that life can bring. The mother compares her life to a set of old broken down wooden stairs. Using the metaphor that “life for me has not been any set of crystal stairs” (2, 20), she implies to her son that her life has not been easy or pleasant either. The mother continues to tell her son of the obstacles that she has overcome by describing the old wooden stairs. She says “it has had tacks in it and splinters and boards torn up and places with no carpet on the floor – bare.” (3-7)

The tacks on the stairs were placed there by another person representing the wrong doings to her by another person and the splinters may have been the result of her actions. These tacks and splinters symbolize the cruel reality of life, as opposed to the ideal fantasy life, such as having a set of “crystal stairs”. Through the voice of the mother, Hughes uses the set of stairs as a metaphor for life and the hardships that they can bring. In spite of these obstacles the mother has moved up the stairs and has overcome them. She tells him she has “been a climbin’ on, and reachin’ landin’s, and turnin’ corners, and sometimes going in the dark when there ain’t been no light” (9-13). She means here that sometimes she was blind to where the stairs or her life was leading her and the direction was unknown, but she still continued.

The mother continues to encourage her son by telling him “not to turn back or set down on the steps ’cause you finds it’s kinder hard” (14-16). She is telling her him not to give up regardless of how hard things may seem at the time and if he continues on he will eventually overcome these obstacles that are causing him such despair. She believes that once you stop it is harder to get started again and she encourages him by telling him how she’s “still goin, honey and I’se sill climin’ and that life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” (18-20). She also tells him that she has made it and still has to encounter these obstacles even in her golden years and she did not give up and has not given up and if she is strong enough to make it then so can he.

Through a mother’s voice Hughes uses metaphors, symbolism, and imagery. He also conveys a message of encouragement. Durring the time this he wrote this poem the message may have been directed towards the African American community; however, today the message is directed to all who feel like giving into the hard times that life can and will bring. Hughes also reminds us that we are not alone in these hard times and that everyone experiences the same hard times in some form or another.

Langston Hughes’ died in 1967; I hope he knew that this poem spoke words of encouragement not only to the African American race but also to the rest of us needing some inspiration. His poem reminds up to be hopeful and to not give up on ourselves.


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