“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.