What advice did the mother give to the son in the poem "Mother To Son" by Langston Hughes?

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Tressa Beahan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Mother to Son” is an extended metaphor for life, narrated from the perspective of a wise maternal figure who has faced many obstacles. Despite this, the speaker has kept “climbin’ on” to reach her destination, which serves as her key piece of advice.

The speaker insists that life has not been “no crystal stair,” insinuating that far from being easy or perfect, her life has been filled with struggles.

The various lines in the poem could represent different kinds of struggles. For instance, when she says “turnin’ corners,” she could be referencing times when she had to alter her approach or change course. The speaker uses these various metaphors to illustrate the ways in which her son may face obstacles similar to those she experienced.

This underscores her message, which is that just because life gets difficult does not mean it is acceptable to quit. Instead, part of life—particularly for black Americans during the time period in which the poem was written—is achieving one’s personal goals in spite of the roadblocks that lie ahead.

The maternal advice is to all young black men who may want to despair in the face of so much resistance and oppression; despite its difficulties, life is still worth living.

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Steph Müller eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Langston Hughes' delightful poem "Mother to Son" compares life to a flight of stairs. The mother explains to her son that walking these stairs is not always easy. She explains that there are sometimes no carpets on the floor. She tells him that he will encounter torn floorboards, splinters, and a number of other obstacles. She also explains that the stairs are sometimes in darkness.

The advice that she gives her son is to keep going. She tells him never to sit down on the steps, never to fall, and never to turn back. She tells him that the floor is too uncomfortable to sit down on.

The message that she is trying to get across to him is that even when life gets hard and he may feel inclined to give up, he needs to keep persevering.

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