Why are the stairs in "Mother to Son" bare?

The stairs are bare because the mother has led a life filled with poverty. The stairs are a metaphor for the hard life that she's led, and much of that life has been marked by severe financial hardship, as represented by the lack of carpet on the stairs.

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As the mother tells her son in Hughes's poem, life has been no crystal stair for her. It's been a hard life, full of splinters, tacks, and torn-up boards. Developing the metaphor of her life as a long, hard climb up a flight of stairs, she says that there have...

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As the mother tells her son in Hughes's poem, life has been no crystal stair for her. It's been a hard life, full of splinters, tacks, and torn-up boards. Developing the metaphor of her life as a long, hard climb up a flight of stairs, she says that there have been torn-up boards and bare patches with no carpet on the floor.

What she appears to be referring to here is living in poverty, which we can reasonably infer has been a frequent experience throughout her life. The metaphor is well chosen, for if someone has bare patches on their stair carpets, we can safely assume that they're not in the best of health financially speaking.

That there are “places with no carpet on the floor” indicates that extreme poverty has been there or thereabouts for much of the mother's life. Not all the time, perhaps, but certainly most of the time; enough to make a real difference in her life, at any rate.

In any case, the mother, who's clearly a very strong, determined woman, has never let poverty get her down. She just keeps on climbing the stairs, getting on with her life with the kind of grim determination she wants to see from her son as he too climbs the stairs.

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