Analyze the literary device of the poem, "Mother to Son," by Langston Hughes.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What a wonderful poem.

In Langston Hughes' poem, "Mother to Son," he adopts the voice of a mother speaking to her son about the hardships in life. The primary literary device used here is an extended metaphor. offers the following definition:

An extended metaphor…establishes a principal subject (comparison) and subsidiary subjects (comparisons).

Another definition, offered by Meyer Literature:

An extended metaphor is a sustained comparison in which part or all of a poem consists of a series of related metaphors.

In this poem, the speaker (the mother) is describing her life, saying:

Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

The imagery here is specific. Hughes wants the reader to imagine what a crystal staircase might look like: glittering like diamonds. However, extending the theme of a staircase, the speaker provides images that contradict the idea of beautiful set of stairs with all the things that can be problematic with stairs. This is the extension of the metaphor, and the images she provides are meant to represent bumps along the road of life.

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—


However, while she has faced these hardships, she reminds her son that she has still made progress up that staircase. It has been hard, but she has still be able to move forward.

I'se been a-climbin' on,

And reachin' landin's,

And turnin' corners...

So she encourages her son, through these images that relate to a staircase but are meant to symbolize the journey of life, not to sit down and give up, but to keep going, just as she still is, on the stairway of life.