Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Merely alluding to the economic problems that cause widows to work late shifts and parents to leave unemployed teenagers unsupervised, Langston Hughes focuses on the universal power of love and trust in “Thank You, M’am.” Hughes portrays the nobility of common people and the vitality of his African American culture in his works. Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, whose name ironically recognizes both the slavery codes of the founders of the United States and the dignity of the common person, gives spiritual and physical gifts to the young boy.

This large woman first recognizes the dignity of the boy’s name, Roger. Then she offers him cleanliness and self-esteem. Equality and trust are other spiritual gifts. As a woman who must heat ham and beans on a hot plate, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones knows that food and money are necessary to maintain dignity. Finally, she gives Roger the greatest gift of all: the right to direct his own life. She closes the door; he is left to choose what he will do. As in most of Hughes’s poems, satires, and sketches, circumstances and society may be unfair, but the individual has a choice. Roger, like Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, must create his own dignity and freedom.