Kevin Chen 484200749
Nov. 26, 1998
Mother to Son?
Langston Hughes's "Mother to Son" is written in the first person point of view.
We can easily tell by the first line--"Well, son, I'll tell you:" This poem is mostly
based upon a mother's talking to her son. What is interesting here is the title and
the sex of the persona. Why the title is called "Mother to Son" instead of "Father
to Son"? I will explain it in several ways. First, I think that Hughes is a hermaphrodite
not in a physical way, but in the mental and psychological aspects. Just as an old
German proverb says, "Every man has his own Eve with him," and vice versa.
Hughes therefore is an "androgynous" poet. Furthermore, the title can also be
applied in Jung's conception of the animus and the anima. Men get their
feminine aspects through their anima. The "Mother" here is the anima of Hughes.
Through this kind of technique, I think that Hughes can realize and reinforce his
female qualities. Maybe the "Mother" here is his mother, and what the "Mother" says
to the "Son" is precisely what Hughes's mother wants to tell him. Besides, we realize
that a persona is a literary creation, and the persona can have nothing to do with the
poet. So, the role of the mother should not be confused with Hughes's sexual identity.
Now, I will talk about the poem itself. In this poem, there is a lot of African-
American usage, which makes me confused when I first read this poem. For
example, "Life for me ain't been no crystal stair" is an authentic black American
speech. This sentence, repeated twice, is not only a metaphor but also a litotes.
Life for the mother is not a crystal stair, which means life is not something fanciful.
Hughes compares life to "no crystal stair." Crystal, a clear and transparent gem,
often has the connotations of dream and fancy. Hughes thereby implies that life is
not a dream. Life to African Americans is hard and harsh. Hughes deliberately
uses litotes, a kind of understatement, to dramatize the misery of the African
Americans, especially the females. The stair has tacks, splinters, and broken boards,
just as we would encounter many obstacles in our life, but still life has to go on.
Thus, in this way, this poem is an inspiring address to all of the African Americans.
Hughes doesn't want his country fellows to give up themselves. Hughes himself is
always striving, just as the mother is climbing on the stair all the time. Even though
there might be "no light" for the minorities, yet it's just a temporary stage. As long
as black Americans move on, their future won't be dark.
This is just my interpretation of this poem. If you have any suggestion, please
email me. Maybe we can discuss this poem together.