What are some responses to Langston Hughes's poems "Harlem" and "Mother to Son"? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Langston Hughes is renowned for his insightful poetry and his realistic depictions of life for African-Americans in the 1920s through the 1960s.

A response to poetry requires that the reader reaches some sense of what the poem says to him/her. 


The short poem "Harlem," revolves around the possibility of a person's hopes being deferred. When the person's hopes of achieving a certain goal are put off for some reason, there are consequences to this postponement. The speaker of the poem explores some of these potential consequences. As part of a reader's response, the reader can place himself/herself in the position of one with "a dream deferred" and answer the question of what may happen when one must postpone the hope for opportunities.

In addition, the reader can consider the feelings of those African-Americans who came from the South where they we forced to be sharecroppers trapped in debt. When their hopes of working in the new industries of the North were met with "deferment" as they again encountered racial prejudice, despair must surely have come into their hearts. Despite leaving the South, many of the new migrants found themselves again segregated; only this time they had to live in run-down urban slums such as Harlem. Thus, the reader can point to certain lines that are relevant to the history of those who were in Harlem, and then put him/herself in place of the speaker.

"Mother to Son":

The reader response on this poem could discuss this poem as a mother's response to her son's loss of dreams of the future. She encourages him to never surrender his dreams—"So boy, don't you turn back"—but to continue fighting even though there are obstacles ("it's kinder hard") in his way. She tells him

Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
A response could also discuss the metaphor of a "crystal stair," can be interpreted in several ways:
The phrase “crystal stair” is intriguing. It can be found in a variety of texts from the nineteenth century, some religious and some secular, and it is often used to suggest the glorious connection or procession from earth to heaven. [Enotes]
There is a line from an old spiritual that the slaves once sang, "I ain't no ways tired." This saying expresses the persevering spirit of the mother, a spirit she wishes to instill in her son.