Published in 1922, ”Mother to Son” was one of Langston Hughes’s earliest poems. Its simple language and powerful message make it both accessible and meaningful for middle grade students. While it captures the inspiring perseverance of an aging mother, it also hints at the struggles inherent in an unequal society. Ideal for teaching word choice, theme, and poetic structure, “Mother to Son” also pairs nicely with units on the Harlem Renaissance or African American literature.
"And sometimes going in the dark/ Where there ain't been no light"
I can't see how things will ever get better...
Life has been difficult for the speaker. She has had to struggle and work hard to survive and improve her circumstances.
The "staircase" of life has been filled with difficulty. The tacks and splinters represent hardships and moments that brought the mother pain. These could include working long hours, dealing with illness, watching a loved one die, or other difficulties.
The "bare" portion of the staircase again suggests difficulties. By isolating the word "bare" in its own line, Hughes suggests the mother was lonely or poor. She had no soft carpet of friends or money to bring her comfort or to ease the pain of her journey.
The darkness represents hopelessness. When the speaker says there "ain't been no light", she suggests that there is no happy, bright spot in her life to bring her joy or give her hope in a brighter future.