Langston Hughes’ Mother to Son

Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

It’s had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor—


But all the time

I’se been a-climbin’ on,

And reachin’ landin’s,

And turnin’ corners,

And sometimes goin’ in the dark

Where there ain’t been no light.

So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now—

For I’se still goin’, honey,

I’se still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

I chose to focus on this poem specifically by Hughes because I love the metaphor of climbing the stairs, and though the climb is rough, the top of the stairs will be such an accomplishment once one makes it there. The title itself clearly shows a mother is teaching her son, and I love how she is telling him that she has been through so much on the stairs, yet she is still going. This poem screams perseverance. It is essential that it is a woman telling a man that she has had such a hard time on these stairs (life), it shows that women have it just as hard as men, and everyone should anticipate some “splinters” while trying to climb the stairs (trying to get through life and be successful). Langston Hughes writes from the perspective of people who have been disadvantaged for centuries, understanding this adds to how much accomplishment means to these people specifically, especially because they were always deemed “less than”. The mother in this poem is telling her son he will be facing a very difficult path, but nevertheless, he must persist, just like she has. I specifically love the part when the mother says “don’t you turn back”, it reminds me of that quote “don’t look back, you’re not going that way”.

This is very relevant to the experiences of minorities and anyone who is not a rich white person in the world. People are disadvantaged and have to work harder simply because the color of their skin, and sadly, the color of their skin affects their income, causing them to be a lower class. Langston Hughes is revealing that these people are doomed from the beginning, but they must still keep climbing the stairs, despite how hurt they get on the way there.

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