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

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Hughes uses dramatic monologue for this poem, in which the mother directly addresses her son and reveals much about her character in the process. This style adds a powerful emotional immediacy to the verse.

The mother in the poem speaks in a vivid dialect, using the non-standard grammar of her subculture in phrases such as "ain't been no." The flavor of her black world and her religious training also come through in her image of her life not being a crystal staircase, an allusion to the Biblical story of Jacob climbing a stairway to heaven. This idyllic staircase provides a contrast to the many stairs this women has climbed. Hughes uses vivid imagery—description using the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell—to show the roughness of her stairs, which have

splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor
The stairs are both literal and a metaphor for her life's journey. The mother compares her life to a climb up a rough staircase.
Hughes employs repetition for effect and to create a sense of rhythm, as well as to again allude back to his mother's black church culture. The repetition of "ain’t been no crystal stair" brings to mind the cadences of a preacher, as does, in fact, the poem's vivid imagery. Hughes also uses a specific form of repetition, called anaphora, which is when the same word is repeated at the beginning of consecutive lines. In this case, many lines of the poem begin with the word "and," which underscores the sense of climbing stair after stair—and emphasizes the theme that the mother keeps on going, no matter what.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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.

eNotes.com 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—

Bare.

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.

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