Thank You, M’am
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A Summary and Analysis of Langston Hughes’ ‘Thank You, Ma’am’
By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
‘Thank You, Ma’am’ is a 1958 short story by the African-American poet, novelist, and short-story writer Langston Hughes (1901-67). In the story, a teenage boy attempts to steal a woman’s purse, but she catches him and takes him back to her home, showing him some kindness and attempting to teach him right from wrong.
You can read ‘Thank You, Ma’am’ in full here (the story takes around five minutes to read). Below, we offer a summary of the story’s plot, and a few words of criticism and analysis.
‘Thank You, Ma’am’: plot summary
The story begins by introducing a ‘large woman’ who carries a ‘large purse’ slung over her shoulder. Late one night, she is walking alone when a boy tries to steal her purse, but because it is so heavy, he ends up falling backwards. She kicks him in the backside before shaking him vigorously and ordering him to retrieve her purse from the ground. She then asks him if he is ashamed of himself for trying to rob her.
The boy, who is dressed in tennis shoes and blue jeans, is around fourteen or fifteen years old and clearly intimidated by the large, imposing older woman. She comments on how dirty his face is and it emerges that the boy is not taken care of at home, so the woman takes him back to her home to wash his face.
The boy just wants her to let him go, but she reminds him that he was the one who imposed himself upon her when she was minding her business. She reveals that her name is Mrs Luella Bates Washington Jones. She comments that if the boy were her son, she would teach him right from wrong.
Once she has the boy inside the house she shares with other people, she asks his name, which he reveals to be Roger. She takes him into the kitchenette and finally lets go of him, ordering him to go to the sink and wash his face. Although Roger initially considers making a run for it, he does as he is bid and goes to the sink.
As the two of them talk, Mrs Jones learns that Roger attempted to steal her pocketbook because he wants money to buy some blue suede shoes. She tells him he could’ve just asked her for the money: a response which confuses Roger. Again, he thinks of running for it, afraid that she will take him to jail, but instead, when she offers to cook him something to eat, he sits down and behaves himself.
Indeed, he even resists the temptation to steal her purse, which she leaves on the table close to him while she goes behind the screen to prepare the food. He offers to go to the shop to get food for her if she needs it, and when she asks if he wants to get some sweet milk for the cocoa she’s preparing, he says that canned milk will be fine.
As they eat, she tells him about her job in a hotel beauty-shop, and offers him some cake. Then she gives Roger ten dollars and tells him to buy himself the blue suede shoes he wants, but not to try to steal from her or anybody else again, because shoes bought from ill-gotten gains would ‘burn your feet’.
As Roger leaves, he wants to thank her more fulsomely than simply saying ‘Thank you, ma’am’, but finds he is unable to. The third-person narrator of the story tells us that he never saw her again.
‘Thank You, Ma’am’: analysis
In this very short story, Langston Hughes suggests that all teenagers who have fallen into a life of petty crime need is someone to put them back on the straight and narrow, and Mrs Luella Jones is the person who does this for Roger in ‘Thank You, Ma’am’. The story presents the details of the narrative in generally direct terms, with Langston Hughes’ third-person narrator rarely passing comment or providing extra detail which can help to fill in the gaps to the two central characters’ lives.
This means that the story contains some tantalising lacunae, or missing details. Although ‘Mrs’ Luella Bates Washington Jones must have got married at some point, there is no sign of her husband in the story, and she appears to live in a rented room in a larger house which she shares with other people. Is she divorced? Did her husband die? Or is he in jail, and this explains why she takes such an interest in helping Roger set his life back on the right track: she doesn’t want him to go the same way?
Similarly, she appears not to have any children of her own, although at one point, she tells Roger that he ‘ought to be’ her son because she could give him the moral compass he so badly needs. Is this the yearning of a childless woman who tried to have a son or daughter of her own but never managed to conceive?
Meanwhile, other women are able to have children but are either unable or unwilling to be proper mothers to them (she clearly isn’t impressed with the indifference, or absence, of Roger’s parents: he tells her that nobody is at home even though it is late at night by this stage).
The end of ‘Thank You, Ma’am’ also leaves things open to our interpretation and analysis. Roger is seemingly overwhelmed by the woman’s kindness and clemency: he feared she was going to turn him over to the police, but instead she gave him the money to buy the shoes he wants (curiously, Elvis Presley’s hit song ‘ Blue Suede Shoes ’ had been released just two years before Langston Hughes published his story). This is presumably why he is unable to say more than ‘thank you, ma’am’ to his benefactress as he leaves her home.
At the same time, the narrator tells us that he never saw her again after this chance encounter one night. This leads us to speculate: would Roger listen to her advice and learn from what had happened? Would he, from now on, decide against stealing things because she had been kind to him and he had had a narrow brush with justice?
Of course, we can only speculate on this issue. On the one hand, Mrs Jones provides Roger with both understanding and guidance: she tells him that she had done some things which she is so ashamed of she would never tell him about them, implying that she has been in a similar position in her own life before, but now leads a moral, honest life. Although Hughes never specifies the ethnicities of the two characters, given Hughes’ depictions of African-American life in Harlem, many readers will probably picture them both as black, so this arguably brings the two of them together.
But on the other hand, Mrs Jones will disappear from Roger’s life after this night. His chaotic home life will not. Whilst ‘Thank You, Ma’am’ shows how kindness and understanding may help a youth who has fallen into bad ways recover his moral honesty and integrity, the ending of the story remains ambiguous concerning the long-term fate of its adolescent protagonist.
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Thank You, M'am
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Symbols & Motifs
Roger is a skinny and nervous 14- or 15-year-old boy. His small size is in part a nod to his home life, which Hughes implies to be characterized by poverty, hunger, and neglect. Roger remarks, for instance, that he has no one to remind him to wash his face, which suggests that his parents are either absent or otherwise preoccupied. Regardless, his timid and deferential behavior speaks to a lack of self-worth and a deep-seated mistrust of others. Although Roger’s desire for a pair of blue suede shoes indicates that he wants more out of life, he doesn’t necessarily believe that he deserves more—or, at least, that anyone else will see him as deserving. It therefore never occurs to him to, as Mrs. Jones suggests, simply ask her for help.
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By Langston Hughes
I look at the world
Let America Be America Again
Me and the Mule
Mother to Son
Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life
Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston
Not Without Laughter
Slave on the Block
The Big Sea
Theme for English B
The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
The Ways of White Folks
The Weary Blues
Thank You, Ma'am
By langston hughes, thank you, ma'am themes.
Trust is a major theme in "Thank You Ma'am." Although Roger 's attempt at stealing Mrs. Jones's purse establishes a dynamic between the characters in which there is no trust, by the time Mrs. Jones drags Roger to her home, she has gained enough trust to let him loose to wash his face. In a crucial moment, Roger knows he could run away from her, as he is still uncertain whether she will bring him to the police. However, he does as she instructs and washes his face, disarmed by the trust she has shown him. Gradually, he relaxes in her presence, no longer believing she wants to punish him for his crime. Mrs. Jones even leaves him alone in the main room with the purse he tried to steal. But rather than take advantage of her trust, Roger sits where she can see him from behind the kitchen-divider screen. In that moment, Roger realizes he wants to prove himself worthy of the trust she shows him. With these ironic reversals of expectations, Hughes shows how trust is a mutually exchanged and mutually beneficial virtue.
Expressed primarily through Mrs. Jones's kind and understanding treatment of Roger, generosity is another of the story's major themes. Even though Roger attempts to steal her purse, Mrs. Jones does not resort to punitive action. She may treat Roger sternly and make him worry about what she is going to do to him, but ultimately she brings him to her home in order to learn what circumstances drove him to snatch her purse. Having found out that he comes from an impoverished home and lives with little or no parental supervision, Mrs. Jones generously feeds him and gives him the money he needs to buy suede shoes. Perhaps seeing a younger version of herself in him, Mrs. Jones understands the life-changing impact her generosity could have on Roger, whose life until then has been characterized by a need to fend for himself.
With both of the story's central characters living in low- or no-income circumstances, poverty is one of the dominant themes in "Thank You Ma'am." While Roger's poverty is overt, driving him to attempt to steal Mrs. Jones's purse in order to buy himself a pair of shoes, Hughes shows Mrs. Jones's poverty in more subtle ways, such as with the details concerning the multi-tenant rooming house in which she lives, her meager kitchen setup, and the fact her service-industry job requires her to work late into the evening. Mrs. Jones addresses her poverty most directly when she reveals to Roger she too once wanted things she couldn't afford. Although Mrs. Jones lives comfortably enough that she can afford to give Roger food and money, her once having been as poor as him makes her sympathetic to the desperation that drove him to rob her.
Dignity—a sense of pride in oneself and the state of being worthy of respect—is another dominant theme in "Thank You Ma'am." The theme of dignity first enters the story when Mrs. Jones holds Roger up by the front of his shirt and notices that his face is dirty. Mrs. Jones finds this lack of hygiene undignified, telling Roger that if he were her son, she would "teach him right from wrong." Knowing that he has no parental authority at home, Mrs. Jones takes Roger to her own home and teaches him how to wash his face in order to look more dignified in society. She also tells him to run a comb through his hair so he "will look presentable." After they eat dinner, Mrs. Jones continues to impart lessons on being more dignified, warning Roger not to steal other purses because of the remorse he will feel afterward. Ultimately, Mrs. Jones's wisdom bears authenticity because she was once in a similarly desperate situation in her life—a situation that led her to do undignified things she would rather not tell Roger or God. Having been through her own struggle with poverty and wanting things she couldn't afford, Mrs. Jones can speak credibly about the importance of living with honesty and pride.
Thank You, Ma'am Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Thank You, Ma'am is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Thank You M'am
Mrs. Jones response to Roger's attempt to steal her purse infer that she her main purpose is to make him take responsibility for his actions, in addition to the fact that she likely understands his circumstances.
Thank you Ma’am
I'm sorry, this is a short-answer literature forum designed for text specific questions. We are unable to assist students with speeches or other writing assignments.
Thank You Ma'm
A. "' You ought to be my son. I would teach you right from wrong. Least I can do right now is to wash your face. Are you hungry?'" (Paragraph 16)
Study Guide for Thank You, Ma'am
Thank You, Ma'am study guide contains a biography of Langston Hughes, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
- About Thank You, Ma'am
- Thank You, Ma'am Summary
- Character List
Essays for Thank You, Ma'am
Thank You, Ma'am essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Thank You, Ma'am by Langston Hughes.
- Character Comparison Essay: "The Scarlet Ibis" and "Thank You Ma'am"
- I wonder where Christ's gone”: A Marxist Critique of Organized Religion in Langston Hughes’ “ On The Road”
- Jazz Subculture in Short American Fiction: The Blues I'm Playing and Sonny's Blues
- The Bounds of Society Cripple Those Who Dare to be Different: Comparing "Seven People Dancing" and "A Perfect Day for Bananafish"
Lesson Plan for Thank You, Ma'am
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- Relationship to Other Books
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Home Essay Samples Literature Thank You Ma Am
"Thank You Ma'am" by Langston Hughes: Ms.Jones's Character Analysis
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Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Thank You Ma Am — An Analysis of “Thank You Ma’am” Written by Langston Hughes
An Analysis of "Thank You Ma'am" Written by Langston Hughes
- Categories: Langston Hughes Thank You Ma Am
About this sample
Words: 317 |
Published: Oct 2, 2018
Words: 317 | Page: 1 | 2 min read
The essay explores Langston Hughes' short story "Thank You, Ma'am," analyzing its themes and characters. The story, published in 1958 during the period of racial segregation, is set in an empty street and Mrs. Jones's home. The main characters are Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, a strong and kind-hearted black woman, and Roger, a poor youth in desperate need.
Initially, Roger attempts to steal Mrs. Jones's purse, but he fails, and she scolds him. However, instead of turning him in or condemning him, Mrs. Jones takes Roger to her home, where she cares for him. The story delves into the complexity of their characters, showing that not everything exists in black and white. Roger is not a one-dimensional villain but rather a young boy forced into a bad decision due to his circumstances. Mrs. Jones, despite her initial sternness, demonstrates kindness and understanding.
The essay highlights the theme of second chances, emphasizing that both characters benefit from this approach. Langston Hughes uses subtext and context to create a compelling narrative that goes beyond the racial tensions of the time. "Thank You, Ma'am" remains relevant and meaningful, showcasing the importance of giving people opportunities for redemption and understanding.
Table of contents
The premise and the setting, implications showing that not everything exists in black-and-white, works cited.
- Baldwin, J. (1955). Notes of a Native Son. Beacon Press.
- Gates, H. L., Jr. (1988). The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African American Literary Criticism. Oxford University Press.
- Hughes, L. (1958). "Thank You Ma'am." In L. Hughes (Ed.), The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers: An Anthology from 1899 to the Present (pp. 109-113). Little, Brown and Company.
- Johnson, C. L. (1997). "Langston Hughes (1902-1967)." In M. S. Green, J. C. O'Donnell-Allen, & D. A. Spratley (Eds.), African American Writers: A Dictionary (pp. 204-208). Greenwood Press.
- Karina, L. (2019). "The Harlem Renaissance." In R. J. Marczak (Ed.), African American Culture: An Encyclopedia of People, Traditions, and Customs (pp. 268-272). ABC-CLIO.
- Lewis, D. L. (2003). "Langston Hughes (1902-1967)." In A. M. Hatch (Ed.), African American Culture and Heritage in Higher Education Research and Practice (pp. 221-226). Praeger Publishers.
- Miller, R. J. (1994). The Informed Vision: Essays on Learning and Human Nature. Vintage Books.
- O'Meally, R. G. (1998). The Jazz Cadence of American Culture. Columbia University Press.
- Rampersad, A. (1986). The Life of Langston Hughes: Volume I: 1902-1941, I, Too, Sing America. Oxford University Press.
- Rhodes, J. F. (2010). "Langston Hughes." In J. Wintz (Ed.), African American Writers and Classical Tradition (pp. 205-220). University of Chicago Press.
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Thank You Ma'am Analysis - Setting, Characters, and Themes by Langston Hughes
Updated 22 July 2022
Subject Books , Writers
Topic Langston Hughes , Poetry , Thank You Ma Am
Thank You Ma'am Analysis
In this Thank You Ma'am analysis, I'll talk about the Setting, Characters, and Themes of this powerful piece by Langston Hughes. After reading the poem, you should have a better idea of why the story is so compelling. If you haven't read it yet, it's well worth reading. It is an excellent example of the importance of reading a piece of literature thoroughly before deciding whether or not to study it further.
The short story "Thank You, Ma'am" by Langston Hughes has a few key themes that focus on shame, dignity, and second chances. The story follows the life of a fifteen-year-old boy, Roger, and a kindhearted woman, Mrs. Luella Jones. In the short story, the power of choice is highlighted through the dialogue that Roger exchanges with the woman. In this thank you ma'am analysis, we will explore how Mrs. Jones changes Roger's perspective through the interaction with her.
Despite the short story having only two characters, Langston Hughes used indirect characterization to establish their personalities. This method of development allowed the reader to see a different side of each character than the main character, which allowed the audience to see both of them through a broader perspective. In the story, the two main characters, Roger and Luella, are described as being different and unique. The similarities between the two characters are evident in both their differences and similarities.
"Setting a Thank You Ma'am" by Langston Hughes can be difficult to pinpoint. Although the story is written in the 1950s, Hughes didn't explicitly state where the story takes place. The story itself is based around race and racism in pre-Civil Rights Era America. The story's setting, however, is an important part of the overall context. As such, setting can provide insight into the character's motivations.
The story is set in Harlem, New York, and depicts the complexities of second chances. As the main character, Roger, a young man in need of basic necessities, is trying to steal the purse from Mrs. Jones, he stumbles and falls to the floor, but Mrs. Jones kicks him mercilessly. As a result, the plot of the story becomes more complex than initially suspected.
Langston Hughes's story "Thank You, Ma'am" is about trust and dignity. In the story, a boy, Roger, tries to steal a woman's pocketbook, but she forgave him for trying. She also feeds him, making him lima beans and ham, and serving him hot cocoa. Mrs. Jones's compassion for Roger helps him understand her situation, and she forgives him later.
Despite the conflict in the story, the main theme of the short story is the importance of second chances. Both Langston Hughes' story and Saki's story feature themes of forgiveness and kindness. These themes are woven throughout both stories in a subtle way. Themes are a key aspect of these stories, and these themes are often hidden in unexpected places. In "Thank You, Ma'am," for example, the theme is hidden in the beginning, but it is not obvious until the end.
Themes in Langston Hughes' "Thank You Ma'am"
The theme of poverty dominates the plot of "Thank You Ma'am." The protagonist, Roger, tries to steal Mrs. Jones' purse in order to buy shoes. Hughes depicts this poor character in subtle ways, such as by showing her living in a rooming house with a small kitchen and late hours. She also addresses her own poverty in a direct dialogue with Roger.
Themes in Langston Hughes' "Thank you Ma'am" can be categorized into two broad categories. Themes of kindness and trust are prevalent, as are the themes of poverty and racism. The protagonist, Roger, is a young black boy who attempts to steal a purse from a white woman. In response, Mrs. Jones feeds and teaches him to be grateful and give back. In a way, this story is about caring for the disadvantaged and the poor.
Despite its complexity, "Thank You Ma'am" is a short story about the power of kindness. Although it involves a flippant young boy named Roger, it portrays the struggles and triumphs of two different worlds. In a time of racism, the story depicts the culture and values of 1950s America, and Hughes uses literary devices to create a twist in the reader's expectations. In doing so, the author develops a deeper meaning for the African characters.
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