In the poem Hughes uses the device of an extended metaphor to describe the life of the mother. The extended metaphor compares the mother’s life to a staircase. The line “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” begins and ends the poem. With this line, Hughes quickly establishes for the reader that the speaker in the poem has not had an easy life. The concept of a crystal staircase gives the reader the impression of complete opulence. Who might be the type of person whose life is compared to a crystal staircase? The reader can indulge in inferring that it would be someone with supreme wealth and someone who did not have to work as hard as the speaker did. By using the imagery of a crystal staircase as the opposite of her staircase, the reader immediately knows before learning any of the details of her staircase that she has not had an easy life.Hughes then goes on to illustrate the staircase of life that the speaker has lived. The speaker’s staircase has splinters and tacks. Both of these would be symbolic of the mother having suffered many hurts. A splinter or a tack will not cause life threatening injury, but they certainly will cause pain. If the splinters and tacks are on every step along the way, it is symbolic that her life has always had pain. Another descriptive detail of the mother’s staircase is that of boards being torn up. If a person walks on a staircase in which boards are missing, it gives the symbolic value that the mother’s life was filled with more dangerous situations than just tacks and splinters. It is symbolic that the mother has had gaping holes in her life that she had to somehow step over to arrive at the place in life that she is now. Not every step along the way was an safe one, but despite this she perseveres.
After describing the staircase of the mother, Hughes has the speaker address the son by saying that he should not sit down or fall down just because his staircase is hard to climb. In the mother’s eyes, the son should never...
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