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Literary Devices Used in Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

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In the poem “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes, a mother is relating her own past life experiences to climbing a crystal staircase. She talks about the obstacles that she has had to overcome and then relates these obstacles to climbing a crystal staircase. She believes that by relating her challenges to climbing a crystal staircase that she will inspire her son no give up but to keep going during the hardships and obstacles of his own “staircase” of life.

By telling her son that, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair,” she is saying that life has not always been easy for her (2). She explains that she has had many, “splinters, / And boards torn up,” in her life (4-5). These obstacles have led her to be discouraged and to want to give up but she does not give up because it is hard. She is, “still goin’, honey, / I’se still climbin’,” through the challenges and the hardships of her life (18-19).

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The use of dialect contributes to the poem by adding an authentic and trustworthy quality to the mother. Specifically, the diction when describing when not to give up, such as, “‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard,” (16). This use of dialect makes the mother sound almost as if she has been scared by someone’s wronging to her or that she has been in pain. Her imperfect grammar also implies the fact that maybe she was not fully educated in correct speech. Maybe she could not afford school. This could have been one of the hardships that she went through during her life. Once again she explains that these hardships were not too much for her and since she could overcome them then so can her son.

Literary devices are used throughout the entire poem. Images from the poem include, “reachin’ landin’s, / And turnin’ corners,” (10-11). This creates an image of reaching plateaus in life such as reaching goals in life. This also creates an image of transitioning into the next major parts of life. This could be starting a new relationship with another person or ending one or growing up. The metaphor of life being compared to a crystal staircase throughout the poem is continued to the very end of the poem. Throughout the whole poem, the mother says things like, “And places with no carpet on the floor- / Bare,” (6-7). This is comparing times in her life when she was alone to a staircase which has places where there are not many people. She overcame this struggle so she is explaining that if she could overcome the challenge then so can her son.

This metaphor of life to a crystal staircase being compared to the challenges in her life. She uses this comparison and implications of imperfections from imagery and dialect to explain why her son should not give up just because life is hard. She has kept going through all of the struggles of her life and she has kept going which means that means that he can too.  

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