The Value of Resilience: Message and Techniques in “Mother to Son”
Resilience is the most important trait one can have in life. Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son” is an example of a parent’s lifetime of wisdom, summed up by a few sentences, being shared with their child. Comparing the mother’s life to a staircase, the poem demonstrated the struggles of life and how it was necessary to overcome them in order to prosper, ultimately illustrating a tone of resilience. Langston Hughes uses symbolism, repetition, and metaphors to demonstrate that success comes from continuously striving to make progress, even when life is difficult.
Langston Hughes uses metaphors to communicate that life is challenging. She opens the poem by writing that “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” (Langston 2). A crystal represents clarity and simplicity, and Hughes said that the entire “staircase”, which represents her entire life, has not been a crystal stair. Therefore the mother’s life as a whole has been confusing and difficult, and the crystal stair is being used as a metaphor to show this. Although Hughes says that life has not been crystal, she makes the comparison between life and a staircase. A staircase requires effort to climb, and are laborious if there are many stairs. Hughes uses this metaphor as a symbol for the continuous effort that life takes in order to keep climbing, or in other words, to keep making progress. Metaphors are used by Langston Hughes to explain how life as a whole is cumbersome and continuous climbing is the only way to make progress.
Symbols used throughout the poem to make comparisons between the hardships of life and the difficulties that a staircase can present. The author says that during her life of climbing the staircase, there were obstacles in her way that she had to overcome. She said that life “[Life has] had tacks in it / And splinters / And boards torn up” (Hughes 3-5). Tacks and splinters are so small that nobody notices them unless they step on them and feel their pain. Hughes uses these as symbols for unexpected tragedies in life. One cannot stop them from happening and nobody sees them coming, but they inflict a great deal of pain. In comparison to the staircase of life, these are obstacles that one will face when climbing, but must be overcome in order to keep going. This furthers her message that life has adversities that must be overcome to keep moving onward. Boards do not get torn up by accident, they are always torn up on purpose. This is a symbol for the intentional obstacles that people put in another person’s way to be mean. The message that Hughes is giving about these people is that they are unavoidable and just need to be ignored. Obviously when climbing a staircase one can see the lack of a board, and will step right over the gap. In the same way, one must realize that certain people are a waste of their time and should ignore them. If there are multiple boards missing then it would be unnerving to take a leap to reach the next step. This represents obstacles that are obvious and intimidating, but unless one faces them and takes a risk, one will never move forward. Hughes demonstrates that there are both obstacles that are obvious and obstacles that are surprising, yet the only way to make progress is to move past them.
Symbols and metaphors show that life is hard and has obstacles, but through her use of repetition, Hughes introduces the idea that by overcoming these obstacles one can be successful. She wrote, “I’se been a-climbin’ on / And reachin’ landin’s / And turnin’ corners,” (Hughes 8-10). Although in line eight there isn’t word-for-word repetition, by using the prefix “a-” in front of the word “climbing”, Hughes is indicating continuous climbing. By saying “And” in front of lines nine and ten, Hughes reveals that through her continuous climbing, she reached landings and turned corners. The landings are symbols for milestones in life, and the corners represent success through continual work. As a result the symbolism and metaphors used by Hughes, she sends the message that life is hard and has obstacles, but it’s necessary to keep going in order to make progress in life. She builds upon this through her use of repetition, saying that the product of hard work is success.
Through the use of symbolism, metaphors, and repetition in “Mother to Son”, Langston Hughes demonstrates that the key to being successful in life is to be resilient, especially when there are hardships. She is trying to convey the idea that quitting will not get one anywhere in life, but by pressing through difficulties, one can be successful. Hughes wrote this poem as an illustration of a mother, who has learned a lot in her lifetime, sharing advice with her son. The poem is a representation of many years worth of knowledge compacted into a few phrases. This is significant because it means that the author has chosen to share this theme out of many that a mother would’ve learned in a lifetime. From this one can infer that Langston Hughes believes that being resilient when life is difficult is the most important lesson about life.
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