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Perseverance: the Theme of Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

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The Harlem Renaissance was the development of a neighborhood in New York City as a black cultural mecca in the early 20th Century and the subsequent social and artistic explosion that resulted. Lasting roughly from the 1910s through the mid-1930s, this period is considered a golden age in African American culture, manifesting in literature, music, stage performance and art. Many well known artists came from this time period such as Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes wrote a poem titled “Mother to Son”. The poem explores the obstacles individuals face in life and the importance of perseverance. The poem provides a sense of comfort to keep moving forward to Americans.

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The poem “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes was written in 1922. It was first published in the magazine crisis in December of 1922 and reappeared in Langston Hughes’s first collection of poetry, The Weary Blues in 1926. Mother to Son is a poem where the speaker is a mother who describes her hardships to her son by comparing her life to stairs. This poem is a monologue, a speech spoken by one person to another without interruption. The monologue is written in such a way as to suggest the natural speech of a woman who doesn’t pay much attention to formal grammar, but who can nevertheless say what she means. Events that were happening around this time period of the 1920s was The Great Depression, The Palmer Raids, stock market crash, and Jim Crow laws. This historical information relates to the poem because it caused African Americans to believe in themselves, and this poem shows how.

A significant theme present in “Mother to Son” is to never give up, push through, and persevere. The main symbolism in the poem is when Mother compares her life to a staircase. She says, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” By this, she means that life has not been easy, and her journey through life has been like climbing a staircase. As a black woman, her journey has been hard, and as she describes it, the staircase she has had to climb has “tacks in it”, “splinters”, “boards tore up”, “places with no carpet”, and is “bare”. Hughes represents the “personal, collective, and spiritual importance of struggle, endurance, and faith” (Napierkowski). It has not been a smooth and easy journey of life; the kind of life that a crystal staircase would provide. Instead, the Mother has led a life full of obstacles and hardships in her climb up the stairs from birth all the way to death. This theme of persevering is representative of the Harlem Renaissance because “writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance raised the world’s consciousness of what life was like for Americans of African descent” (Napierkowski). 

“Mother to Son” influenced American culture by providing a sense of comfort and motivation to Americans and African Americans by offering African Americans “both the security of a small, self contained community and, at the same time, as part of America’s publishing and entertainment capital, it offered access to national and international audiences” (Napierkowski). 

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