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“Mother to Son” Poem by Langston Hughes

Published in 1922, “Mother to Son” was one of Langston Hughes’ early poems. Simple language and a powerful message created by the author make it accessible and meaningful to all readers. While Hughes captures the inspiring persistence of an aging mother, he also represents the struggle of African-Americans inherent in an unequal US society of that time.

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Main Analysis

This poem is one in which the structure reflects the content of the work. “Mother to Son” graphically looks like a stair with lines located to reflect a certain form. It contains specific elements such as a creative interval inside or between lines to show the pauses, distance, or emotional depth of the poem. There are several specific elements through which Hughes connects the poem’s structure with the metaphor of the ladder and the complex life of the mother that it represents (Zapruder, 2017). Through symbolism and imagery, the author depicts a woman who struggled a lot in life but still pushes forward. Selecting words for his work, Hughes includes many words and phrases with negative connotations such as nails, chips, bare, dark, no light, and so on. The above words create an atmosphere of hardship and the aspiration to struggle. The mother states that “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s had tacks in it” (Hughes, 1922, para. 1). The staircase shows an old, rickety, and dangerous ladder representing the difficulties of her life.

A simple dialect of the speaker presupposes a life with limited educational access. The lengths of the diverse lines reflect the ups and downs of the stairs and the way of life. It should be stressed that despite the difficulties in her life, the mother continues to struggle in an attempt to improve her life and that of her son. The central theme that this creates is the importance of persevering in the face of difficulties. The given poem marks the African-American cultural heritage, reflecting on people complaining about their past enslavement and the ongoing economic struggle. This social and economic resistance was particularly serious in America in the era of Jim Crow before the Civil Rights Movement. “Mother to Son” is based on understanding the financial struggle against many African-American families during the early 1900s. Written almost 100 years ago, this message still sounds relevant today.

Hughes represents the Harlem Renaissance as the way for further struggle of the African-American population for their rights. For example, the following lines may be cited to prove the above idea: “I’se still climbin’, and life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” (Hughes, 1922, para. 1). The essence of the Harlem Renaissance was to eliminate racial prejudices and stereotypes through the arts, the activities of writers, artists, and musicians, thus achieving social and political equality and proving that African-Americans are the same people standing on the same stage of development as the whites, who are capable of work, creativity, and education.


In conclusion, it should be stressed that the “Mother to Son” poem is a great example of the Harlem Renaissance movement that occurred in the United States as a struggle for African-Americans for equal rights. Using such tools as symbolism and imagery, Hughes creates an atmosphere of emotional tension through the mother who tells her son how difficult it is to climb the stair and remain an individual.


Hughes, L. (1922). Mother to son. Web.

El-Deftar, W. M. (2014). Symbolism of time in the work of Langston Hughes. International Journal of Language and Literature, 2(4), 123-132.

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Zapruder, M. (2017). Understanding poetry is more straightforward than you think. The New York Times. Web.

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