Comparing and Contrasting Hughes's Mother to Son and Wilbur's The Writer
Whether life is a steep climb up a shaky stairway or a challenging voyage over rough seas, a parent hopes a child will persevere to the end. In Langston Hughes's poem "Mother to Son" and in Richard Wilbur's poem "The Writer," the poets use the voice of a parent considering a child's future, and both use imagery of struggle and survival to suggest what lies ahead for the child. Although the point of view, context, and language of the two poems differ significantly, the message is the same: a parent wants a good life for his or her child, but knows that many obstacles can block the way.
While Hughes and Wilbur share a similar message in their poems, their points of view are very different. Hughes uses a first-person narrator, a mother speaking directly to her son. The title of the poem itself, "Mother to Son," states this point of view. The reader is listening in on a one-on-one conversation. The opening line introduces the mother's monologue: "Well, son, I'll tell you." The point of view stays consistent as the mother describes what life's stairway has been like for her: "Life for me ain't been no crystal stair" (2 and 20), and urges her son to do as she has done: "I'se still climbin'" (19). She addresses her son directly throughout the poem, calling him "son" (1), "boy" (14), and "honey" (18). The poem is entirely in the mother's speaking voice, with the informalities of someone speaking privately to a close relative and the grammatical errors of someone who is probably not well educated.
Richard Wilbur's poem is also written in the first person, but the narrator does not address his daughter directly until the final stanza (31-33). The first thir...
...s her message across in twenty short, simple lines.
Both "Mother to Son" and "The Writer" offer a parent's sincere message to a child. However, the poems' points of view, contexts, and language show two parents who have traveled very different paths before offering their messages. The reader sees that parents' hopes and concerns for a child are universal, even though their expression differs.
Bixler, Frances. Richard Wilbur: A Reference Guide. Boston: G.K. Hall 1991
Hughes, Langston. "Mother to Son." Literature and Ourselves: A Thematic Introduction for Readers and Writers. Eds. Gloria Mason Henderson, Bill Day, and Sandra Stevenson Waller. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2003.
Wilbur, Richard. Responses. Prose Pieces: 1953â€“1976. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1976
â€“ New and Collected Poems. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1988
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