Critical Analysis of Mother to Son:
This poem is a symbol of the struggle which the Negro Race had to endure throughout their time in America. From being taken from their native homes in Africa to the oppressive shallow fields of America, the race of black people have struggled and are still struggling till the date. The struggles of the black people have been filled with hardship and despair and haunted the progress of the Negro race altogether. In this poem, Hughes addresses the points in which the Negro race have faced inequality and social injustices and from those, have risen above to the next step, which will ultimately lead to the progression of the American Negro. The mother in this poem is telling her son that although there is racial tension and hostility preventing him from acquiring his dreams, he must keep on climbing up the stairs because just as she has done, he can rise above the issues facing him. The mother understands that for the rest of his life, he will keep on climbing because there will always be racial prejudice which will weather the “steps of life,” but with his determination, he can rise above it, just as the Negro Race is doing.
This moving poem empowers not only the son but also the reader with precious words of wisdom. Through the skillful use of a literary device such as informal language, symbolism, metaphors, repetition, as well as clever use of the format, Hughes manages to assemble up the image of a mother lovingly, yet firmly, talking to her son about life. This poem is an advice from a mother to a son about life that will be challenging and does not think about giving it up.
The theme that the poet wanted to convey through the poem is a determination to live without ever thinking giving up although the obstacles are harsh. Besides, it also emphasizes regarding the struggle for life that the one will experience but still have the strength to face it day by day. It also shows about affection and as the motivation of a mother to a son that takes care of his son and gives advice so that the son will somehow be prepared to face the life.
This poem also resembles the popular expression “lets’ have a father to son chat”. However, in this case, the saying is altered to “mother to son”. Poetic devices such as informal language, symbolisms, metaphors, and repetition were used in this poem. This poem is written from the mother’s point of view in the advice from so the audience could feel the warmth and approachability of Sothern dialect. Readers will immediately have an impression of middle-aged women battered by life’s struggles, with no formal education but plenty of life experiences to share with the son.
Poetic Devices in Mother to Son:
The image of a staircase begins and ends “Mother to Son.” “I’se been a-climbin’ on, / And reachin’ landin’s, / And turnin’ corners,” the mother says, conjuring the image of a climb through all of the life’s hardships. She tells her son, “Don’t you set down on the steps. / ‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.” Her advice is to carry on, to keep climbing the stairs despite the desire to give up. Hughes’ image of the difficult, upward journey toward a better life is advice meant for everyone in times of struggle.
The stairs referred to by the mother in this poem are in a state of disrepair and dilapidation. She says of the staircase, “It’s had tacks in it, / And splinters, / And boards torn up, / And places with no carpet on the floor— / Bare.” These lines evoke the image of the tenement houses where poor and disadvantaged African Americans were forced to live in the northern cities, particularly after the Civil War when many left the South.
Dark and Light:
The mother in the poem says that while climbing the stairs over the course of her life she was “sometimes goin’ in the dark / Where there ain’t been no light.” The imagery of darkness conveys the idea of being without hope. It also evokes a time of uncertainty when the mother was not sure whether she was headed in the right direction — or what she might have encountered when she reached her destination.
The imagery of stairs that lead heavenward is evoked in the line “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” Like Jacob’s ladder in the Bible, upon which Jacob saw a stairway traversed by angels leading up to heaven, the stairs are a spiritual reference. They embody the idea of leaving troubles and tragedies behind. The reference also alludes to the idea of suffering as a requirement to reach that crystal stair and, thus, heaven.
Structural Analysis of Mother to Son:
This is a short free verse poem containing twenty lines, which are without any regular rhythm or formal rhyme scheme. There are a few instances of rhyme in the poem, especially the connection between “stair” in the second line and “bare” in the seventh line. The poem is written in the irregular metrical pattern, though some follow trochaic meter as in “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”
The language is colloquial, such as “Cause you find it’s kinder hard.” The vernacular language gives the impression that the woman is less educated and probably from the countryside. Alliteration is sparingly used in the poem such as the “d” and “s” sounds, as in “Don’t you set down on the steps.” The poet has used the device of anaphora in that “And” is used at the beginning of many of the lines. In order to emphasize the idea that the mother’s life was not ideal and perfect like a crystal stair, a line is repeated twice: “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” Enjambment is used throughout the poem as, “And splinters,/ And boards torn up.” The language is unpretentious and informal.
Probable Questions from Mother to Son:
1. Write a note on the theme of the poem, Mother to Son.
2. Critically analyze the poem Mother to Son
3. Write a note on the imagery of Hughes’s Mother to Son
4. Do you see any auto-biographical overtone in this poem? If yes, then explain.
5. What is the subject of Hughes’s Mother to Son?
6. Comment on the use of metaphor, styl, and symbolism of the poem.