African American Lit Essay

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James Madison University

Analysis of Hughes’ Mother to Son

Christian Brown

GENG 260

Dr. Fagan & Dr. Thompson

September 14, 2012

Christian Brown Brown 1
Sept 12th, 2012
GENG 260
Dr. Fagan & Dr. Thompson

Analysis of Langston Hughes’ “Mother to Son”

Written from a mother’s point of view, Langston Hughes’ twenty-line poem “Mother to Son” encapsulates hardworking African American attitudes while being delivered in a more casual mother-son conversation. Hughes uses this monologue to share a philosophy on life through a wise mother’s words. The inclusion of the ‘crystal stair’ metaphor creates more than just a simple piece of motherly advice. It morphs the poem into a more universally understood message. What makes Hughes poetry stand out is the concept that it can empower anyone who reads it, not just one who subscribes to the African American race. The mother’s words resonate with a message for all of us to not give up on life and keep “a-climbin’ on.” (Hughes line 9) Themes of overcoming life obstacles to accomplish goals and survive are channeled through the concerned mother’s voice as advice to her son. The mother’s voice seems to be hearty and almost fatherly, which isn’t out of place since a concern for the mother may be that a father is absent in her son’s life. The poem starts with “Well, son, I’ll tell you...” (Hughes 1-2) - similar to an informal segway for a father-son pep talk of sorts. The metaphor of this ‘crystal stair’ represents an easy-going, relaxed, and perhaps luxurious lifestyle that every person strives for. She states “Life for me aint been no crystal stair.” (Hughes 2/20) Essentially she is facilitating the idea that life is difficult and not an easy task. This crystal staircase life is one of perfection and clarity while the mother’s figurative life staircase is harshly described with “tacks,” “splinters,” Brown 2
“boards torn up,” and “bare.” These descriptions add to the sharpness and vulnerability of the mother’s earlier life. These elements all relate to the metaphor of her life’s struggles and also directly to the fact that she most likely grew up in a household with harsh features such as splinters and bare, carpet-less floors. The noticeable dialect written in the poem portrays a warm, southern feel. Although the dialect isn’t necessarily an important feature in the works, it does show that Hughes presents to the reader that this mother was uneducated or with very little education, and yet she is still able to pass on priceless life lessons and advice to her son. Perhaps she does this with more finesse than the average educated parent. “So boy, don’t turn your back. Don’t you set down on the steps.” (Hughes 14-15) She wants to, again, tell her son not to give up on the goal of life…