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Mother to Son by Langston Hughes. Welcome to our presentation on the poem and the Harlem Renaissance by Rebekah Frye, Erin Curran, and Tricia Barnes. Biography of Langston Hughes.

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Mother to son by langston hughes
Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

Welcome to our presentation on the poem and the Harlem Renaissance by Rebekah Frye, Erin Curran, and Tricia Barnes

Biography of langston hughes
Biography of Langston Hughes

James Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. His parents divorced when he was only a child, and his father moved to Mexico. His grandmother raised him until he was twelve years old, and then he moved to Lincoln, Illinois to live with his mother and her husband. Next, he moved with his mother and stepfather to Cleveland, Ohio. Hughes began writing poetry when he was in high school, and his class designated him as “class poet.” Langston Hughes achieved his fame as a poet during the artistic period known as the Harlem Renaissance. Labeling Hughes as only “a Harlem Renaissance Poet” has restricted him to only one genre and decade. However, Hughes wrote for longer than a decade. His long, successful career produced many volumes of diverse genres, and he has inspired the work of many other African American writers. After Hughes graduated from high school in 1920, he moved to Mexico City to live with his father for a year. Hughes’ move to Mexico City inspired him to gather new insights about race, class, and ethnicity. Hughes returned to the United States when he ran out of money. Biography continued

Biography continued
Biography Continued

It is important for people to realize that Hughes was not only a poet, but he was a novelist, columnist, playwright, and essayist. Hughes’ life and work contributed to the shaping of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s. Hughes differentiated himself from other black poets of his time because he refused to separate his personal experiences and the common experiences of black America. He wrote stories of black people without personalizing them. He wanted his readers to be able to develop their own ideas and conclusions to his writings. On May 22, 1967, Hughes died in New York City of congestive heart failure. In his memory, the street that he lived on has been renamed “Langston Hughes Place.”

Mother to son by langston hughes

Mother to Son

by Langston Hughes

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 --Bare.But all the timeI'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.


Line(s) -Meaning

Mother to Son - A message from a mother to her son.

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair- Life has not been beautiful, transparent, or easy forthe mother. It hasn’t been an easy climb.

It’s had tacks in it, / And splinters,- Tacks and splinters are hazards that can cause pain, just like hazards in life.

And boards torn up, - The torn up boards represent damage, obstacles, and hardships in life.

And places with no carpet on the floor – / Bare.- This creates the image of being cold, naked and isolated. It creates a mood of loneliness.


Continue Interpretations

More interpretations
More Interpretations

But all the time / I’se been a-climbin’ on- These two lines push the idea of consistency and endurance in life.

And reachin’ landin’s- This represents achieving goals in life. The landing is a point of triumph.

And turnin’ corners, -Turning corners means trying new things.

And sometimes goin’ in the dark -Going in the dark can represent courage and faith.

Where there ain’t been no light.-No light represents unexplored and foreign territory.

So, boy, don’t you turn back.-Don’t run away from life.

Don’t you set down on the steps.-Don’t give up.

Still more Interpretations

Still more interpretations
Still More Interpretations

‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.- Because it is hard.

Don’t you fall now - Don’t get weak.

For I’se still goin’, honey, / I’se still climbin’- She is showing her son it can be done and she is the example.

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.- It wasn’t easy for the mother either.

***This is not the only interpretation, just the way that is is most widely interpreted.


Like most writers, Langston Hughes uses figurative language to express ideas in his work. In his poem “Mother to Son” Hughes uses metaphor to convey his message.

A metaphor is a comparison that does not use the words “like” or “as.”

In line two of “Mother to Son”, Hughes writes “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” Hughes makes the initial comparison between life and “crystal stair in this line. He continues the poem within that metaphor by symbolizing the afflictions of life through a damaged staircase.

Other poems by langston hughes
Other Poems by Langston Hughes

 The Weary Blues (1926)

 Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927)

 Dear Lovely Death (1931)

 The Dream Keeper and Other Poems (1932)

 Scottsboro Limited (1932)

 Shakespeare in Harlem (1942) With Robert Glenn

- Langston Hughes has written a variety of works including poetry, prose, and drama. We provided a list of popular poems, but our list is only a selection of his poetry biographies.

Information on the harlem renaissance
Information on the Harlem Renaissance

  • Art and artists

  • Music

  • Literature

  • Dance

  • Black Americans during the Harlem Renaissance

  • Why Study the Harlem Renaissance?

Links and sources
Links and Sources

The Harlem Renaissance-

Harlem: 1900-1940-

The Harlem Renaissance: The Best and Worst of Times-

Poets of the Harlem Renaissance-

The Art of the Harlem Renaissance-

Think Web Quest: The Harlem Renaissance-

Music of the harlem renaissance
Music of the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance brought about many powerful singers and new types of music. Jazz, which was born during this time frame, is rooted in the musical tradition of American blacks. Blues is a type of music that deals with hardships of life and love. This type of music was typically self-accompanied by the singer on a harmonica or a guitar. A mix of blues and jazz later became what we now know as rhythm and blues. Major musicians were Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and Duke Ellington. The song currently being played is Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train.” African-American women were also a part of this movement. Talented singers such as Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, and Josephine Baker took their place in the Jazz field and struggled with the barriers that men had already set up. Although the Harlem Renaissance ended in the 1930s, Jazz and Blues continued to be a part of music history.Back to Slide Show

Other major authors of the harlem renaissance
Other Major Authors of the Harlem Renaissance

W.E.B. Dubois

Claude McKay

Countee Cullen

Zora Neale Hurston

Rudolph Fisher

James Weldon Johnson

Jean Toomer

Eugene O‘Neil

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Dance of the harlem renaissance
Dance of the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance also was the birth place of many new styles of dance that would later influence many of our modern day dances. Some of these dances included the Black Bottom, Charleston, Lindy Hop Swing, and Tap dancing. Most of these styles were wild and very strenuous. They were considered to be very risqué at the time because of the closeness of the partners and the sexual hip movements. Back to Slide Show

Artwork of the harlem renaissance
Artwork of the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance brought the birth of many new artists. Harlem became known as 'The Mecca of the New Negro”, and soon became home to a cultural and art revolution. There were three main themes for the artwork: the reborn Negro, blues aesthetics, and images of Africa. Back to Slide Show

Aaron douglas into bondage 1936
Aaron DouglasInto Bondage 1936

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Archibald j motley jr blues 1929
Archibald J. Motley JrBlues 1929

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Lo s mailou jones les fetiches 1938
Loïs Mailou JonesLes Fetiches 1938

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Black american during the harlem renaissance
Black American During the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissances is the period of time that black artists began creating work that represented black culture. This African-American cultural movement became known as "The New Negro Movement" and later as the Harlem Renaissance. This time period served as more than a literary movement.It included racial consciousness, "the back to Africa" movement led by Marcus Garvey, racial integration, the explosion of music, in particular jazz, spirituals and blues, painting, and drama. W.E.B. Dubois asserted the notion of two-ness in his book The Souls of Black Folks. "One ever feels his two-ness - an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled stirrings: two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." Black Americans were starting to define themselves outside of White Americans during this time. The Harlem Renaissance glorified the culture of African-Americans and redefined African-American art. African-Americans were encouraged to celebrate their heritage and to become "The New Negro." Artists began to express their black consciousness through their work.Back to Slide Show

Why study the harlem renaissance
Why Study the Harlem Renaissance?

In light of Black History Month, we decided to explore a poem written during a time which marks black artistic awakening, the development of black aesthetics, and a critical time of appreciating and recognizing the black experience: The Harlem Renaissance. The poem we chose is an inspirational piece from a black mother to her son. We felt that this encouraging poem really speaks to all persons, but especially to the participants of the black struggle.

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