Langston Hughes wrote the poem Mother to Son, in which the writer is a Black American mother to her son. It is clear that the mother has faced tremendous struggles and wants to give hope and inspiration to her son so that he, too, will persevere in life as she has. In this segment, the mother offers a detailed and informative analogy of her past in order to help her son appreciate this fact and hopefully cultivate the proper attitude toward challenge (Hughes 1994). In reality, the mother assures her son that he should use her life as a template and walk in her footsteps to ensure tremendous achievement. Notably, various literary devices are used to ensure proper understanding of the poem and ensure the message is home. It is in this analysis that various claims from the poem will be explained and support with sufficient evidence from the piece. Also, the literary devices will be utilized for the analysis of the poem.
The poem starts with the mother telling her son of what to expect in life. She explains that he will face many adversities in life, but he must strive to overcome all of them and emerge victoriously. She narrates her own experiences and the obstacles she faced suggesting that her staircase was not made of crystal, but protruding nails, boards were torn out, pieces of wood jutting out and the carpet was missing. Nonetheless, she kept striving and pressing on without giving up despite the discomfort, darkness, corners, and landings. She never turned back, and thus she motivates her son to follow her example through life. In a sense, she presents herself as an inspiration, and a pillar of strength that her son can always consider during hardships and carry on till success is realized. The suggestion that she slept in a house with no carpet alludes to the fact that the mother was brought up in absolute poverty and comfort was not one of the things she experienced. Additionally, the use of the symbolism of life as a staircase that she kept climbing indicates that she never gave up and regardless of the difficulties she had to persevere, making progress was very important. In a sense, this poem is an older generation writing to a younger generation elaborating that life is not all rosy but one that may be paved with beckoning detours and challenges that must be overcome. In the relentless pursuit of success in patience, there is a guarantee of a better life.
The language in the poem is colloquial as opposed to the formal language used in most poems. This asserts the fact that the mother because of the low-income in her growing up, she was unable to attain a quality education. However, she used whatever was in her stake to form encouragement and hope as an expression of love to her son. Notably, there are also few occurrences of rhyming words through the poem except for the ‘stair and bare’ which are used in subsequent lines. The informality of the language would also be an indication of cultural identity as a Black American, and thus the mother chose the language she would communicate best and ensure that the point is home for her son. Here, it is evident that the audience plays a significant role in choosing the words and style of delivery of a literary piece (Zapata-Rivera & Katz 442). Additionally, the poem utilizes monologue extensively, and it seems a personal letter to the son such that it is not generalized. The mother mentions the word ‘son’ as in to depict a one-on-one conversation.
The tone in the poem is serious. The mother seeks to bring a comparison between her son’s life and her own life, and it is evident that the son had fewer challenges compared to hers, and as such he would not afford to lose hope or quit at whatever cost. Hughes, also present the mother as the stairway through which her son can attain the success he so desires. Mothers here are seen as role models and bridges through which children can succeed despite and in spite of hardships. The use of a mother’s tone being very serious would also be an indication of the challenges the mother has gone through raising the son. With the increased rates of single mothers among Black Americans, mothers are left without alternative but to take up the role of both parents for the well-being of their child (Pearl 177). It can also assert the fact that a mother’s love is unfailing and unconditional regardless. By praising the mother who speaks the words of encouragement to her son, Hughes would also be trying to provoke men to rethink their gender roles of shaping the destiny of their children especially the sons. However, we find this is not happening, and the mother thus is forced to be resolute in communication with her son.
In conclusion, the understanding that the poem was written when African Americans were facial racial discrimination helps understand the hardship and difficulties. However, because of a mother’s determination to endure patiently, there is an increased probability of other courageous people. Since the mother persevered, it was possible to use her life as an example to encourage those of a younger generation. The poem utilizes symbolism extensively to emphasize on the difficulties and allow the reader gain a mental picture of the difficulties that were prevalent. Monologue used personalizes the poem and blends well with the informal language to ensure no barrier hinders the son from getting the point as intended.
Hughes, Langston, and Amos Paul Kennedy. The Negro speaks of rivers. Disney Jump at the Sun Books, 2009.
Hughes, Langston. “I, too.” The collected poems of Langston Hughes (1994).
Pearl, Amanda M., et al. “Bidirectional effects of parenting quality and child externalizing behavior in predominantly single parent, under-resourced African American families.” Journal of Child and Family Studies 23.2 (2014): 177-188.
Zapata-Rivera, Juan Diego, and Irvin R. Katz. “Keeping your audience in mind: applying audience analysis to the design of interactive score reports.” Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice 21.4 (2014): 442-463.