What is the speaker's purpose in "Mother to Son"?

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The person speaking in this poem is the poet's mother. Her purpose is to tell her son both that life will be a hard climb for him as a black man as it has been for her but that he should never give up. As she puts it to him:

So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.

The mother uses an extended metaphor, comparing life to a staircase, to convey her message. She describes this staircase to her son. In places, it is splintered and uncarpeted. In some places there are holes in the flooring with "boards torn up" and in other spots tacks. Sometimes it is dark, and sometimes the stairs seem to go on endlessly. Nevertheless, the mother never stops in her journey, no matter how hard it gets.

The mother contrasts her harsh journey through life to the crystal staircase that Jacob climbed to heaven in the Bible. The stairway to heaven is an easy climb, unlike the journey through earth.

The mother's message to her son that life can be rough is applicable to all of us. Even people who come from greater privilege than a poor black woman reach places in life that seem insurmountable and where it can feel easy to give up in defeat. The voice of this mother, which has a courage and authenticity, inspires us to keep going, just as she inspired her son.

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