What Does the Poem “Mother To Son” Mean?

The primary message of the poem “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes is from a mother to her son, telling him to keep going no matter how hard life gets. She says she has been through her share of hardships, but she continues to persevere.

The speaker in this poem is not the poet himself, who wrote the poem when he was only 21 years old, but a mother speaking to her son. An African-American, Hughes uses a dialect one expects to hear from an elderly African-American woman for whom life has been a struggle. In her speech, she compares her life to a staircase and says twice in the poem that her life “ain’t been no crystal stair.” She wants her son to know she understands the difficulty of life because she has lived it, and she, therefore, has the right to encourage him not to “turn back,” “set down” or “fall.” She wants him to follow her example and find encouragement in her progress. She tells him she has climbed over tacks and splinters and broken boards. She has walked in bare places and in the dark. She has, however, made her way. She has reached landings where she is able to catch her breath, and she has turned corners at times to go in another direction. She speaks to him lovingly at the end, referring to him as “honey” and assuring him that she is still forging ahead in life.