Langston Hughes poem “Mother to Son” depicts the perseverance of a mother in efforts to encourage her beloved son to keep ascending and never look back in order to succeed in life. She begins by advising him to not give up and face any difficulty despite any obstacle. Hughes also makes a reference to the agony of African American women in American history. He portrays the difficulties and hardships they had to go through to raise black sons. Three essential themes portrayed in the poem are struggle, hope, and courage.
An essential theme conveyed in the poem is struggle. Struggle is seen through the mother whose life has been rough. She has been faced with the cold and ruthless truth of life and has encountered many obstacles throughout her journey for a better life. The speaker states, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” (Line 2). A “crystal stair” represents an easy, prosperous and joyful life. But in reality, the metaphorical staircase in which the mother alludes to is a rickety staircase symbolizing a rough life accompanied with lots of struggles and hardships Furthermore, she states:
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor –
In these lines, the imagery expresses all the pain and struggles that confronts the mother. It also provides a vivid picture of a set of imperfect and beaten up stairs that represents her life.
For example, “tacks” and “splinters” give a negative connotation. Tacks are nails and splinters are small fragments of woods which impede one from moving. This represents the difficulties and challenges the mother has dealt with in order to keep climbing up that dreadful staircase. The next metaphorical line “And boards torn up” signifies the rough grounds she has been walking through. Lastly, “And places with no carpet” imply that she had no luxuries and as a result the floor was “bare”. In these lines, she emphasizes the different type of struggles she has endured such as deep wounds and painful scratches. The mother had to walk through painful obstacles as kept going up. This also conveys the poor conditions that the mother has been living in and her struggle to overcome that. The author not only brings up the theme of struggles but also connects it to the struggles African Americans were subjected to such as living in poverty and disastrous conditions. The struggles of African American people have been filled with hardship and despair. This suggests that endurance and struggle are part of life and with optimistic and spiritual hope one can strive for a better life.
Hughes also conveys the theme of hope. Despite all obstacle she faced, the mother keeps climbing up, up, in order to ensure her son a better life and not like hers. Regardless of everything she has been confronted with she has not lost hope in any minute of her life and is willing to face any adversity that comes within life itself. The speaker declares, “I’se been a-climbin’ on And reachin’ landin’s And turnin’ corners (9-11). This shows that the mother has not loss a sense of hope because she keeps climbing up despite all the struggles. The line “And reachin’ landin’s” illustrates the idea that the mother knows if she continues to have faith and hope she will definitely reach up the staircase and strive for a better life for her and her son. She assures to her son that the end of the staircase there will be a glimpse of hope which will bring a more peaceful life for them. In addition, Hughes emphasizes this sense of hope that the mother has even in the most obscure moments of her life. The speaker states, “And sometimes goin’ in the dark Where there ain’t been no light So boy, don’t you turn back” (12-14). Here, the imagery in these lines represent the fear and doubts that one endures during times of hardships and struggles. The line “And goin’ in the dark” resembles the dark times the mother has gone through in which she might have encountered an endless tunnel “where there ain’t been no light.” These lines convey the idea that there were moments of indecisiveness and confusion in her life but will hope she has managed to get through that. Lastly, the line “So boy, don’t you turn back” emphasizes the idea that the mother is affirming the value of hope and faith that her son should have to reach his most yearning goals.The mother expects her son to not be misled nor lose hope and as a result sets her life as an example to motivate her son to keep moving on. Overall, these lines reveal that if one has hope during rough times then it will give them courage to keep climbing and eventually succeed in life.
Lastly, Hughes portrays the theme of courage. The mother wants her son to overcome the hurdles of life and for that he must possess courage. She sets her own example by stating that she has felt moments of despair and despite that she is still persistent in climbing up and so, he must not start descending. The speaker states:
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now-
For I’se still goin’, honey (15-18)
Here in these lines, it shows how the mother is directly addressing her son that he must confront any obstacle with courage and determination because life is genuinely tough. In the line, “Don’t you set down on the steps” implies he should not give up because “it’s kinder hard.”
The next line “Don’t you fall now” signifies that the mother is encouraging her son to not just sit back down and give up during harsh times but to keep moving up. Lastly the line, “For I’se still goin’ honey” reinforces the idea that if the mother did not give up while climbing those horrific “stairs’ neither should her son. He needs to have courage in order to confront any obstacle that might intervene in his way. These lines resemble the idea that the son. must possess the courage to move forward in life in spite of all the difficulties that might come his way and never look back nor give up. The mother is simply trying to tell her son that she knows what he is going through because she has been in rough times herself. Those rough times were troublesome, but she had the strength to go on and get past them. So, he must abide as well and with courage he will reach the “landin’s”. The speaker goes on by stating “ I’se still climbin’ And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” (19-20). In these lines the mother keeps comparing her journey of life to the upward climb on a staircase and says it has not been smooth like crystal. She keps reminding her son to never turn back and have the courage to always move on. She has learned to face her own issues with sheer courage and so must he. Nevertheless, during the rough times that African Americans went through they had to hold on to hope and courage to help them keep moving forward, despite the racial injustice they were facing.
Finally, throughout the poem Hughes highlights three essential themes that are just a crucial reality in which one might endure throughout their life. These themes apply to one’s daily life but also connects to the struggle African American women had to face in order to raise their sons. Furthermore, to reach success one must be ready to confront struggles, or any obstacle but have the strength to overcome them. With hope, one can face any obstacle knowing that there will be a light somewhere at the end of the tunnel. Lastly, Hughes emphasizes the theme of courage. One must possess courage to keep moving forward during rough times and to strive for a successful life. This poem hints the message that life is not easy, but should be ready to face the adversities and obstacles.