Langston Hughes

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What is the symbolism in the poem "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes?

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"Mother to Son" uses the conceit, or extended metaphor, of a staircase to symbolize the hardship of the mother's life. Her metaphorical "staircase" has made for difficult climbing—it has exposed tacks, splinters, gaps, and places where the carpet is completely worn down. This is contrasted with a crystal staircase in the famous line "Life for me ain't been no crystal stair." A crystal staircase symbolizes an easy, affluent, sparkling life, while the rickety staircase the mother speaks of symbolize a difficult one.


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The poem's main symbol is the rough staircase the mother climbs every day. It has, according to her:

tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor
She contrasts is to a beautiful stairway, saying repeatedly that "it ain't . . . no crystal stair." Nevertheless, the mother emphasizes that she keeps on climbing up and down this staircase and advises her son to do the same. She says 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 staircase the mother climbs up and down determinedly is an allusion to...

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