In the poem "Mother to Son," where does Hughes use onomatopoeia and assonance?

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Onomatopoeia is a language device in which a writer uses words which not only describe a sound, but also vaguely replicate that sound when said aloud. Writers often use onomatopoeia to create a vivid sense of place; a poem which uses onomatopoeia will sound a little like the scene being described simply because of the aural imagery created. In this poem, Langston Hughes uses subtle but effective onomatopoeia in his description of the stair the mother is describing to her son. Think about the word "splinters," for example—when we say this word, we can hear the sharp snap of wood as it breaks in the hard "t," while the "spl" sound suggests splitting. The word "splinter" sounds like the noise wood makes when it splinters, and we can imagine the sense of the mother's life splintering unexpectedly like this. The stair, of course, is a metaphor for her journey, and just as splinters arise out of nowhere and cause pain, so has that pain leapt out at the mother during her life.

Assonance is a language device in which the same or similar vowel sounds are repeated across several words. Assonance can lend cohesion to a poem's structure, particularly where there is no rhyme scheme, and can also add emphasis. The phrase "don't you set down," for example, has assonance on "don't" and "down" and emphasizes the mother's message: that even when life is hard, we cannot just stop.

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Langston Hughes' poignant poem, "Mother to Son," tells the story of a mother giving some hard-life-experience advice to her son. The onomatopoeia (the formation or use of words--such as hiss or murmur--that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to) is not as definitive as most examples, but the closest wording to fit this literary device would be the colloquial "I'se been a climin' ", which attempts to imitate the act of the hard and never-ending climb up the steep stairs of life. The closest example of assonance (also called vowel rhyme, in which the same vowel sounds are used with different consonants in the stressed syllables of the rhyming words) would be the line "Where there ain't been no light"; the first three words use the hard "eh" sound. The examples of "I'se" and "climbin'" would also fit the definition of the term. Perhaps a better used literary device is the personification, where Hughes gives "life" the attributes given to stairs (tacks, splinters, boards, no carpet).

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