In the poem “Mother to Son”, a mother is the speaker and she gives advice to her son. The mother is seen to pass through hardship as she gives advice to her son. As readers, we can identify the difficulty by how the speaker illustrates life as a staircase with “tacks and splinters” (line 3 and line 4) which she deals with a lot of challenges. She is likely to have come from a poor background since the images in the poem portray an old staircase that can be found in old buildings. Additionally, unlike the poem such as “Daddy” which is fluent, the ascent of the speaker in this poem reveals that she might not be well educated because she uses words such as “I’ve been a-climbin’” (line 9) which is incorrect English.
The speaker explores subjects of life and resiliency; thus the tone can be considered to be resilient or gritty. She uses words such as “climbing on”, “reaching landings”, “turning corners”, “doing in the dark”. All these words are an extended metaphor that explains the speaker’s ability to bounce back after many trials. The speaker’s determination shows her resilience and grit. There is a tone shift as the poem is also didactic. Didactic can be defined as informational. The mother tells her the truth about life. Nevertheless, the tone does not vary greatly as in the poem “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath.
Repetition is also used in this poem. The words “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” have been repeated in the whole poem. The aspect of repetition brings an emphasis on the speaker’s theme of the poem. The use of figurative language also expresses the speaker’s experiences. An example of a metaphor in the poem is the crystal stairs which are compared to the life of the speaker. Tactile imagery is used to suggest that the mother did not live a prestigious life and hence words such as “tacks” and “splinters” are used. The speaker also uses allusion which makes readers think of life as if they are climbing a mountain.
Analysis of the Poem “Daddy”
The speaker in the poem “Daddy” is a child who expresses anger towards a father figure. The poem illustrates the love and hate relationships where the father is the source of hatred that the daughter had because of his demise.
Unlike the poem “Mother to Son” which has only one shift in tone, the poem “Daddy” has a tone that changes from childlike admiration and adoration to that of a detached and contemptuous but fearful adult. The tone can be akin to innocence. Although there is a significant variation of tone in the poem, Plath manages to neutralize the tone by using the word “Daddy.”
Just like the poem “Mother to Son” which embraces repetition, Plath also uses repetition in the first stanza of the poem. She starts with “You do not do, you do not do…” The purpose of repetition to enhance emphasis. Apart from using repetition, Plath also continually uses the “oo” sound which is a soothing sound underlying a childlike tone.
Plath reveals hidden messages about her relationship with the father by using figurative language. There are more figurative language styles in this poem when compared to the poem “Mother to Son”. By saying that her father is like a Nazi while depicting herself as a Jew, she indicates that she is a victim. The engine of a train is used as a metaphor by the speaker to depict her father using the German language and also indicates that she is being led to the concentration camp. She also uses allusions to Nazi Germany and Hitler to indicate that Plath imagines her father to be a Nazi who is extremely evil. She uses words such as “Barbwire snare.” “Dachau,” among others.