Explain the title "Thank You, M'am."    

2 Answers

bullgatortail's profile pic

bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Roger, the young boy who tries to steal a purse from the wrong woman in this Langston Hughes short story, feels shame and regret after he is forced to return to her home. While there, the large woman, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, treats the boy with respect and gives him a hot meal. She does not question him about the purse again, but only asks if he wanted the money because he was hungry. No, the boy tells her; he only wants to buy some blue suede shoes. She tells him that she, too, has done things for which she is ashamed. Mrs. Jones gives him $10 to buy the shoes, and shows him the way to the door. As he leaves, he wishes that he could think of something else to say, but he only tells her "Thank you, m'am." Because the woman, who obviously has little money herself and has to cook a simple meal on a hot plate, is so kind to the boy, and treats him with dignity, she earns his trust and his respect--quite a change from how the two first met. It seems an appropriate title.

kmj23's profile pic

kmj23 | (Level 2) Educator

Posted on

In this story, the title refers to the events which pass between the two characters, Roger and Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones. Specifically, Roger tries to steal Mrs. Jones' purse because he wants to buy some blue suede shoes, as he later explains. Instead of reporting him to the police, Mrs. Jones shows great kindness to Roger: she invites him into her home, lets him use her washing facilities and feeds him. She also gives him the money to buy the shoes.

The title is, therefore, a celebration of these acts of kindness and, more importantly, of Roger's immense gratitude. The fact that Roger wanted to "say something else other than thank you m'am" (as expressed in the final paragraph) suggests that nobody has ever shown such understanding and benevolence to him and this is, perhaps, one of the story's key messages: that kindness exists in the most unlikely of places. 

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