What do "landing" and "corners" symbolize in the poem "Mother to Son"?

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The poem “Mother to Son” was published by the poet Langston Hughes in 1922. It is written from a mother’s perspective, as she tells her son about the struggles in life. She does so by comparing life to a staircase that one has to keep climbing, relentlessly moving up and up.

The mother tells her son that life for her has not always been an easy climb: “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” However, during her metaphorical climb up the staircase of life, the mother has encountered “landin’s” and “corners." The “landin’s” can be interpreted as little resting places on the climb up the staircase. Here, a person can find momentary rest and pause a little while trying to regain their breath and strength in order to later continue the climb. This could be seen as a metaphor for calmer, more peaceful times in life, when events in life are not as scary, exhausting, or stressful as they are during the harder times. These landings are therefore to be interpreted as an encouragement for her son to keep on climbing, to keep on trying in life, as they indicate that there will always be times of peace and quiet, no matter how hard and strenuous life seems.

Similarly, the “corners” indicate changes in life: just like the corners on the metaphorical staircase, life offers occasions where things suddenly change and it is possible to head off in a different direction. The staircase does not just go straight ahead and up; instead, it allows the speaker to turn a corner every now and then. This allows the speaker to view the staircase—and therefore, metaphorically speaking, her life—from different angles.

These corners also allow the speaker to move on in a different direction when needed, which indicates change and gives hope: life is not always the same; it comes in waves and changes frequently, just like the corners change the direction of the staircase in the poem. After bad times, there can be a change and good times may be suddenly around the corner—all you have to do is persevere and keep on going until you reach such a corner.

Therefore, through the metaphors of "landin's" and "corners," the speaker wants to encourage her son to keep on walking. She wants her son to not be afraid of venturing into the unknown, of turning those corners without seeing what’s behind them. She wants him to persevere and struggle on, in the hope that life can only get better: “So boy, don’t you turn back.”

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