A metaphor is a comparison between two things that focuses on their similarities. A metaphor does not use the words "like" or "as" in the way a simile, which also compares two things, does. A simple example of a metaphor is "You are my sunshine," which makes the comparison between someone you love and the way the sunshine makes our lives warmer and brighter.
Langston Hughes, a poet from the Harlem Renaissance and one of the most famous African-American writers, uses metaphor to draw connections between important cultural ideas. For example, in his poem "Mother to Son," the speaker, an African-American mother, compares her life to a staircase when she says "Life for me ain't been no crystal stair." This staircase, as she describes it, is full of splinters, tacks, and torn up boards. In this poem, Hughes is making the connection between the difficulties of her life and an old warped staircase. The mental image that we get of the staircase from the speaker's description helps us to understand how difficult her life has been.