How does Hughes transfer women's experience into emblems of African American experience in "Mother to Son"?

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Langston Hughes' "Mother to Son" stairs are the central metaphor that conveys the poem's themes of generational sacrifice and maternal love.  In terms of African American experience, the poem reveals Black English vernacular, spiritual metaphor (stairs to heaven), segregation, and domestic imagery.

The mother says "life for me ain't been no crystal stair," and she wants her son to hold dear her memory and not take all her work for granted.  The African American experience in urban cities in the 1920s was wrought with domestic work: cleaning stairs among them.  Her life has been a fight against segregation: unfairly excluded from the American Dream because she was black or a woman.  She was likely a maid or servant herself.

She makes no excuses, however.  Notice, she is climbing.  She's made it, on the socio-economic ladder and the spiritual one.  She's raised a son and wants him to be proud of hard work, first and foremost.  She wants her son to make it up on the social and spiritual ladders as well.  She encourages him not to "turn back."  The mother knows that segregation is likely tougher on males because they feel the most disenfranchised and ashamed on menial work.