Mother To Son, Langston Hughes: Summary & Analysis

In "Mother To Son," Langston Hughes presents a metaphorical conversation between a mother and her son, conveying the challenges and hardships she has faced throughout her life. Through the imagery of a difficult and uneven stairway, the poem explores themes of perseverance, resilience, and the intergenerational passing of wisdom.

Mother To Son

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So, boy, don't you turn back.
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,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

Critical Analysis

"Mother To Son" conveys the mother's experiences and wisdom through a metaphorical dialogue, using the image of a challenging stairway to symbolize the difficulties she has encountered throughout her life. The poem celebrates the mother's resilience and advises her son to persevere in the face of adversity.

The opening lines emphasize the mother's honesty and straightforwardness. She asserts that her life "ain't been no crystal stair," immediately setting a tone of realism and hardship.

The imagery of "tacks," "splinters," and "boards torn up" conveys the challenges that the mother has encountered. The description of "places with no carpet on the floor— / Bare" underscores the starkness and lack of comfort she has endured.

The metaphor of climbing a stairway represents the mother's journey through life. The reference to "reachin' landin's," "turnin' corners," and "goin' in the dark / Where there ain't been no light" symbolizes the ups and downs, twists and turns, and moments of uncertainty she has faced.

The mother's advice to her son not to "turn back" and not to "set down on the steps" reflects her determination and resilience. The repetition of the word "Don't" emphasizes the urgency of her message.

The final lines affirm the mother's enduring spirit. She assures her son that she is still moving forward and climbing despite the challenges she has faced, reinforcing the theme of resilience.

"Mother To Son" serves as a tribute to the mother's strength and a timeless lesson in perseverance and determination.


"Mother To Son" by Langston Hughes presents a metaphorical conversation between a mother and her son, wherein the mother shares her life's challenges and hardships using the imagery of a difficult stairway. The poem celebrates the mother's resilience and advises her son to persevere and continue climbing despite the obstacles.

Themes of the Poem

  • Perseverance and Resilience: The poem's central theme is the importance of persevering through life's challenges and difficulties, as demonstrated by the mother's experiences.
  • Intergenerational Wisdom: The poem underscores the passing down of wisdom and life lessons from one generation to the next.

Stylistic Analysis

  • Metaphor and Imagery: The metaphor of the stairway and the vivid imagery of "tacks," "splinters," and "dark" create a powerful visual representation of the mother's journey through life.
  • Repetition: The repetition of phrases such as "Don't you turn back" and "I'se still climbin'" emphasizes the mother's unwavering message.


  • Resilience and Determination: The mother's resolute attitude and determination to keep climbing despite difficulties are central to the poem's emotional tone.
  • Love and Advice: The mother's advice to her son reflects her love and concern for his well-being, encouraging him to face challenges with strength.


  • Metaphoric Language: The use of the stairway metaphor throughout the poem allows for the exploration of complex themes in a relatable and vivid manner.
  • Dialogue: The poem's structure as a dialogue adds authenticity and emotional depth to the mother's message.

Sound Devices

  • Rhythm and Flow: The poem's rhythmic structure enhances the flow of the dialogue, contributing to its reflective and empathetic tone.
  • Alliteration: Alliteration in phrases like "tacks," "turnin' corners," and "Don't you fall now" adds a rhythmic quality to the lines.
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