The founding fathers constructed the Constitution with the notion that “all men were created equal.” However, many minorities still struggle for the same rights and opportunities as others. “Mother to Son” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” are poems written by Langston Hughes that use symbolism to exemplify the struggles of African Americans as they attempt to persevere through adversity. Hughes utilizes the stairs in “Mother to Son” and the rivers in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” as his main modes of symbolism.
In “Mother to Son,” Hughes uses a worn staircase as an extended metaphor to parallel its flaws to the struggles of African Americans. The poem begins with a mother speaking to her son about the pressures of reality and telling him not to succumb. She tells her son, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair,” (Mother to Son “MS” line 2) to portray that her life is far from perfect like the stair of a white person. She describes her life as having “tacks and splinters….with boards torn up” (Hughes lines 3-5). These defects symbolize the problems in her life whether they were caused by her race or gender.
Aside from the mother’s race and gender, her lack of education also plays a role in the hardships in her life. Hughes makes her limited education apparent in his use of her vernacular. Words like “ain’t” and “I’se” (MS lines 4, 9) symbolize the fact that Mother is from a Black background and she does not have sufficient education. These limitations, however, do not keep her from persevering and keeping a positive paradigm. She wants her son to realize that, though they may not have the best education or a more advantageous skin color, they must strive to overcome these hardships to reach their higher potential.
In “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” Langston Hughes uses rivers not only as a representation of the narrator’s soul, but also to embody Black people throughout time. He proclaims “My soul has grown deep like the rivers” (The Negro Speaks of Rivers “TNSR” line 4). The speaker likens his soul to rivers that he could not have known, such as the “Euphrates” (TNSR line 5). Therefore, he is conveying that because his ancestors experienced such things, then, by association, he did as well. In “Mother to Son,” Mother speaks for herself, but she represents Black people as a whole and how they have had to overcome and continue in their endeavors. She, nor other Blacks, can sit down while embarking on their treks, they must persevere.
The rivers are also used to symbolize the eternal knowledge of the narrator. He states that he “[has] known rivers…ancient as the world….” (TNSR line 2). The repetition of this phrase emphasizes the fact that the speaker and his people have endured time and all its obstacles from the birthplace of civilization in the Middle East to the thriving place of slavery in...