What is the character analysis of Roger in the story of "Thank you, M'am?"

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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Roger, who we are first introduced to in this memorable story when he tries to steal the bag of Mrs. Jones, is described as a young teenage boy who is clearly not looked after at home. Note how the text describes him:

He looked as if he were fourteen or fifteen, frail and willow-wild, in tennis shoes and blue jeans.

Mrs. Jones comments on the fact that his face his dirty, and adjectives in the description above such as "frail" and "willow-wild" suggest that he is very thin and gangly. In addition, "frail" suggests that there is something breakable about him or that he is particularly weak. We can also infer that he has nobody to look after him at home. Roger himself says, "there's nobody home at my house." Although he tries to steal Mrs. Jones' bag, it is clear from how he acts later on in the story that he is a good boy at heart. He obeys instructions, and behaves respectfully towards Mrs. Jones, and they have a pleasant evening together. He shows that he is able to reform himself and change his ways, and we remain convinced by the end of the tale that he will do his best to change his life and to make something of himself thanks to his encounter with Mrs. Jones.

durbanville's profile pic

durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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When analyzing Roger's character in "Thank You M'am" by Langston Hughes, it is important to consider the part he plays in the story and its development. After a brief introduction to Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, the incident which propels the plot forward takes place, and Roger tries to steal Mrs. Jones's purse. Therefore, the reader forms an adverse first impression of Roger as a would-be thief. However, it does not take long for the reader to reassess his or her first impression. 

Roger's failed attempt reveals that he is not a seasoned criminal but just a "boy," and his response to Mrs. Jones's question about whether he is ashamed of himself (he is) contributes to the reader's understanding of Roger's internal conflict as he struggles between doing the right thing and his desire for a pair of blue suede shoes. It is this inner conflict which develops his character as the reader witnesses his reactions to Mrs. Jones's actions. His behavior reveals that Mrs. Jones's observations about his being somewhat neglected and left to fend for himself are apparently correct. He is frightened, apologetic, and, ironically, essentially well-mannered and honest. He responds to Mrs. Jones's questions respectfully and even admits that he would run away if he were given the chance.

Roger is somewhat confused by his own actions when he is given that opportunity to run away and chooses not to; such is the impact of this "large woman." This change in Roger reveals that he is a dynamic character because a dynamic character does experience change during the course of a story, but he cannot be described as a fully rounded character because the reader has no way of knowing whether Roger is reformed sufficiently to follow Mrs. Jones's instructions and "behave." The reader certainly hopes so, and the fact that Roger acknowledges that a simple "Thank you" would not fully express his gratitude for the $10 he receives supports this belief in Roger. Hughes says, "The boy wanted to say something else other than 'Thank you, m’am,'” revealing Roger's developing maturity and apparent recognition that what has happened is about far more than a pair of shoes.

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