Explain what an internal conflict is from the Langston Hughes story "Thank You, M'am."

An internal conflict is a battle that is waged within one character, rather than between two characters. In "Thank You, M'am", such a conflict can be seen going on inside Roger, as he weighs up his thieving self against the no-nonsense kindness shown to him by Mrs. Luella Bates.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

First things first: what is an internal conflict? If an external conflict is a struggle that takes place between two characters in a story, then an internal conflict is a struggle taking place between two opposing ideas in one character’s mind.

I would argue that there is a great example of an internal conflict going on in Roger’s mind in this story. After attempting to steal from Mrs. Luella Bates, she starts issuing him a series of instructions. She takes him into his home, asks to know what his name is, and insists that he wash his face. One can imagine the internal conflict going on between his fear of the woman who has every right to call the police and his curiosity as to why he is being so kind to her. The internal conflict relates to whether he should obey his instincts and flee, or stay and see how far Mrs. Luella Bates’s kindness will extend.

It seems that the kindness shown to him adds a layer of complexity to this conflict, because he does not want to be mistrusted, and therefore does not run, even though he has ample opportunity to grab her purse and leave. He stays for dinner and then leaves, and while we are not told what happens to him after that, we are left free to hope that this internal conflict has changed Roger for the better.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

An internal conflict is a psychological question or issue in a character's mind; in literature, the resolution of an internal conflict can create the climax of the plot. In the story "Thank You, Ma'am," the internal conflict is how the woman, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, will decide to deal with Roger, the boy who has attempted to steal her purse. At first, she grabs him, and then she takes him home, determined to find out why he attempted to steal. She realizes that he is hungry and decides to feed him and later to give him money to buy the blue suede shoes he wants.

She resolves the question of how to deal with the boy by being kind and generous to him and helping him afford what he wanted to buy. The resolution of the story revolves around how she decides to treat the boy's infraction.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Thank You, M'am," there is internal conflict as Roger struggles between doing what is easy versus doing what is right. After Mrs. Jones drags him to her home, Roger has an opportunity to flee. When Mrs. Jones tells him to wash his face, Roger sees that the door is open. The evidence of an internal struggle is seen when "Roger looked at the door—looked at the woman—looked at the door—and went to the sink." After washing his face, Roger again notices the open door, and the reader once again sees evidence of an internal struggle. Roger could make the choice to run and to free himself from Mrs. Jones's words. However, he again chooses to stay. As Mrs. Jones prepares food, Roger is careful to sit where he thinks Mrs. Jones can still see him. At this point, it becomes clear that Roger has made his decision to stay and to be trustworthy.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the Langston Hughes’ short story “Thank You, M’am,” the internal conflict isn’t blatantly obvious. It must be inferred from the actions and thoughts of the characters. The external conflict is easy to find—it happens right away when the boy, Roger, attempts to steal Mrs. Jones’ purse.

The internal conflict is demonstrated later in the story when Roger has been dragged to Mrs. Jones’ apartment. Once they get there, Roger is surprised to find that Mrs. Jones, instead of calling the police to report his attempted theft, has behaved with kindness toward him. She speaks to him warmly and cooks for him. This begins to affect Roger in an important way, and Roger, who initially just wanted to rob Mrs. Jones, begins to want to earn her trust, as we see in the following passage:

But the boy took care to sit on the far side of the room where he thought she could easily see him out of the corner of her eye, if she wanted to. He did not trust the woman not to trust him. And he did not want to be mistrusted now.

From the above passage we see that the boy is worried about whether or not Mrs. Jones trusts him. This concern about what someone else thinks about him is internal conflict, because it is an issue he is dealing with within himself, and it is causing him some anxiety. It cannot be external conflict because it is not happening in the form of a disagreement, argument, or fight with something else outside of Roger’s person.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team