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What is the tone of the poem ''Mother to Son''?

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robinho | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 20, 2009 at 3:48 AM via web

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What is the tone of the poem ''Mother to Son''?

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 24, 2009 at 12:31 PM (Answer #1)

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The tone of "Mother to Son" is didactic.  A mother, after looking back at her life, wants her son to know that life is not easy or glamorous--it's not a "crystal stair." Instead, the mother/speaker chooses to describe her life as a winding, unrelenting staircase.  However, the poem does not imply a negative tone toward life as a whole.  The mother states that even though her life has not been facile, she has been "reachin' landin's," "turnin' corners," and "sometimes goin' in the dark." This implies that she wants her son to press on even when he does not know what lies ahead of him. 

The last several lines of the poem definitely illustrate an inspirational tone.  The mother admonishes her son not to fall down because she's "still climbin'."  If she can continue on her ardous journey after all these years, then surely her son can gain encouragement from his mother's example.

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted March 2, 2015 at 11:27 AM (Answer #2)

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To add to the previous answer, the tone of the poem can also be characterized as plain, homely, colloquial. This is apparent from the use of such words as 'ain't' and phrases like 'I'se still goin' honey'. Obviously this kind of tone is suitable to the situation, where a mother is familiarly addressing her son.

The tone also becomes increasingly hortatory throughout, that is to say, the mother is exhorting her son never to give up in life. Such lines as 'Don't you fall now' are actually in the imperative form, or the form of a command. She is actually ordering him to never give up the fight.

Although on the face of it it's a fairly leisurely poem, it contains an urgent message at its heart. Also, although it may appear rather plain in style, it is rather disingenuous in its apparent artlessness, as it is built round an extended metaphor, or conceit: that of life as an toiling journey up a set of stairs. The sense of upward movement is crucial; the mother is anxious for her son never to give up the climb, no matter how hard it may sometimes be, as it has been for her. She aims to teach him by her own example. 

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