Mother to Son Questions and Answers
by Langston Hughes

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How does the poem's use of language and free verse contribute to the author's purpose in "Mother to Son"?

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In "Mother to Son," Langston Hughes gives a message of encouragement to black Americans struggling against poverty and racial injustice. The language of the poem and the free verse format contribute to the message by creating a dramatic monologue. The words chosen and the sentence structure create a believable pep talk that a black mother might have given to her son in 1922 (when the poem was written) or even today.

Hughes uses dialect to create a realistic form of expression in lines 9, 18, and 19. The use of "I'se" for "I have" makes the tone folksy and helps the reader picture the black woman speaker. The speaker often drops the g's on -ing words, consistent with the pronunciation used by her ethnic group. Likewise, the words ain't and kinder contribute to the monologue's effect.

The poem speaks of a circuitous climb to a better quality of life. The mother describes her efforts toward advancement as a stairway that is in bad condition. She has had to step over rough areas; she has stopped at landings, turned around, and groped in the dark. The uneven lines of the free verse reinforce this feeling of a difficult and faltering journey. Some lines have only one or two words, while others are quite long, suggesting times when she was cut short in reaching an intermediate goal or had a spell of relatively unhindered success.

The free verse not only reinforces the realism of the mother's monologue since it simulates the rhythms of regular speech, but it also supports the meaning of the poem by visually paralleling the fits and starts of the mother's progress through life.

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