Poem Analysis: Langston Hughes’ “Mother to Son”

320 words | 2 page(s)

(1) In Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son,” the speaker is, as the title implies, a mother to her son. (2) Hughes writes the poem from the first-person point-of-view of the mother addressing her son; however, it is not a true dialogue poem since the son is not a character in the poem as well, and there is no back and forth exchange. Instead, the poem reads almost like a letter, as if the speaker is chronicling her thoughts to relate later. The speaker clearly wants to relate a hopeful message of perseverance to her son, as she demonstrates her strength through hardship and leads by example, as shown by these lines:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters… (Hughes 1-4)

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The speaker wants her son to know that she has persisted through adversity, and so should he. (3) There is no specific setting to the poem, as Hughes intentionally leaves the setting out to give the poem a timeless feel, as if this poetic narrative could be happening at any time and place. (4) The theme of the poem, i.e., perseverance and determination, is stated more or less directly in the poem.

However, the sub-context of the poem, i.e., the inherent racism and poverty the speaker has endured, is connotational and metaphorical, as shown by these lines: “And boards torn up, / And places with no carpet on the floor— / Bare… (5-7). The “bare” floors imply poverty, as do the lack of a carpet and the “splinters” from the previous quoted lines. The inherent racism is more a feel, from knowing Hughes’ history as a social activist, than an actual reference. (5) It is not clear that specific events are being addressed in the poem. The speaker refers more to an overall sense of struggle throughout her life, rather than a specific event or place in time.

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