A Mother To Son Langston Hughes

The Story

Langston Hughes’ Mother to Son, published in 1922, is a poem in free-verse. It flows freely and is not bound to any specific details, although the general sentiment remains consistent throughout. In it, the speaker—a mother—is confidentially sharing advice with her son, which she has presumably learned from her own life experience.

“Mother to Son” is an effort to instill self-confidence in her son in the face of the numerous obstacles and disappointments of life. She encourages him to not give up and to keep on striving even though he may only progress step by step.

The poem begins with “Well, son, I’ll tell you”. The use of the phrase “son” is of special importance, as it implies that the speaker is not only speaking to her son in the present moment, but also offering him the teachings and wisdom she herself has gained through the course of a long life.

The mother’s advice is brutally honest. She has spent much of her lifetime, and has been a witness to the challenges and difficulties of life. “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair”, she states bluntly in the second line.

The mother uses an extended metaphor as she challenges her son with the logic that if she can make it through a “crystal stair” in her life then her son can also make it up “the stairs” he is climbing.

The mother’s obstnance and faith in her son’s ability to triumph through adversity is represented by the chorus line of the poem, “Don’t you fall now—” which appears at the end of every stanza. The repetition of “now” indicates the urgency with which she tells her son not to give up even if the tasks he is undertaking are difficult.

The last stanza of Mother to Son brings the poem to its conclusion, as she tells her son to “keep on a-climbin'”. The repetition of the activity reflects the message of the poem – that despite life’s difficulties, one should continue to strive and never surrender.


The central message of Mother to Son is one of resilience and enduring hope. Despite the hardships of life being presented in the poem, the mother insists that her son is capable of overcoming the obstacles he faces and that he should never give up. This hope is expressed through the use of extended metaphors – describing life as a staircase one must climb – with the promise that the end of the staircase is much more beautiful than what one can see from the bottom.

The poem is a reflection of Hughes’ lifetime of experiences at a time when the black community was facing extreme economic deprivation and racial discrimination. Thus, the poem should be viewed as an anthem of optimism and perseverance to those still facing similar struggles.

The poem’s empowering message conveys the idea that anyone – regardless of social standing – can make a difference in their own lives if they commit to living a life of principle and strength. The mother’s advice is to never give up and never surrender – if one can do this then one can make it up their own metaphorical “crystal stair”.

Language and Imagery

The poem is written in free-verse, a form of poetry that allows the speaker to flow freely within the restrictions of formal stanzas. The poem is written in the first-person from the perspective of the mother talking to her son.

The mother does not merely state her message – she also paints a vivid image for her son of a staircase that has curves, splinters, and darkness along the way. This imagery is integral to the success of the poem’s central message, providing a metaphor for the difficulties life throws in one’s way.

Hughes also employs various bleaker images and metaphors throughout, such as the “thorn-filled stair” and the “ting-an’-tin” sounds of the steps. This dark imagery serves to show the reader the harshness of the trials endured by people, while simultaneously providing an assurance of hope at the end.


Langston Hughes was a prolific author, poet and playwright who has left an enduring legacy. During the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, Hughes focused on writing poetry that portrayed the struggles of African-American life in America. His works often explored issues such as racism, labour exploitation, and discrimination.

Mother to Son is one of Hughes’ most famous works, not only because of its timeless message of perseverance, but also because of its depiction of a mother’s unconditional love for her son. The poem is written from the viewpoint of a mother, tired from years of labour, but who never stops believing in her son and supporting him.

The poem offers a glimpse into the experiences and realities of African-American life in the 1900s. It speaks volumes about the power of resilience and optimism when people’s conditions remain dire. By presenting her son with her own hard-earned advice, this mother is transforming the tide of history and providing her son with the tools to navigate his own life.

The Legacy

Mother to Son has been influential since its publication almost a century ago. It has been studied in schools, enshrined in textbooks, and is included as one of the most famous poems of the Harlem Renaissance.

It has become a part of the black community’s inheritance and a source of inspiration for many. It is written in the voice of a matriarch – a woman who is often neglected in society despite being placed in the role of nurturing and teaching a family. As such, Hughes’ poem is groundbreaking and radical, imbued with a spirit of feminine strength.

The poem is held in great esteem to this day. In addition to its relevance to African-Americans, it is a timeless story of being a parent and of believing in one’s own potential. By giving her own experiences to her son, this mother inspires her son to trust in life, no matter how hard it may seem. This simple yet heartfelt gesture is what makes Mother to Son so powerful.

Critical Analysis

On a structural level, the poem consists of five single-line stanzas, each ending with the same phrase: “Don’t you fall now—”. This repetition serves to hammer home the central message of hope and faith in the face of hardship. In addition to its structure, the imagery used in Mother to Son is vivid and memorable. The metaphor of the staircase has been used time and time again as an integral part of the poem’s structure and its message.

The themes of hardship, perseverance, and forgiveness are central to the poem. More than simply a personal narrative, it is a universal story common to many who have faced adversity. By exploring these themes, it offers the reader a valuable insight into life, and a roadmap through the many obstacles one may encounter.

The poem should not be interpreted as a simple call to action, but rather as a reminder of the value of hope and faith to those who have faced adversity. Through the mother’s assurance, Hughes’ conveys the power of resilience and the importance of never giving up in the face of life’s difficulties.


The poem has been widely read and praised since its initial publication. Writers such as Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes himself, Margaret Walker Alexander, and many others have drawn upon its message as an inspiration for their own works.

The poem’s exploration of universal themes has been particularly impactful on many African-Americans, who often find themselves excluded from much of the literature of the world. For many, Mother to Son has served as an ode to hope in the face of adversity, and has become an anthem for those who dream of a better tomorrow.

In addition to its powerful words, the poem has also become iconic due to its inclusion in many film, theatre and music presentations. It has been referenced in the hit TV show The West Wing, sampled in the song Remind Me by Royce da 5’9″, and performed in live theatre.

The poem is also frequently referenced in the writings of contemporary authors, making it an influence in today’s culture.


Langston Hughes’ Mother to Son is a timeless poem that has become an anthem of perseverance and hope. The mother’s message – never to give up – is one that has resonated with people of all backgrounds and speaks to the human experience in a powerful way. Its words reflect the struggles of African-Americans in the 1920s, but also the struggles of anyone who has faced adversity.

Today, Mother to Son has become not only a timeless classic, but also a source of inspiration for many. Its legacy is as relevant today as it was upon its initial publication, and it will likely continue to influence generations for years to come.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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