How does the description of Luella's home in Thank You M'am reveal her character? Which method can I use in writing my own description that shows a person's character by describing his or her home?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many different indicators of personality. An impression can be created by noting personal characteristics such as the way a person looks, how he or she dresses, wears his hair or follows style trends. Even the way a person walks and holds his head and shoulders often indicates whether he is potentially shy or outgoing, withdrawn or confident. In Thank You M'am, a short story by Langston Hughes, Mrs Luella Bates Washington Jones's character is even indicated in her name, as using all four names reveals a woman who is proud of her heritage and one who will defend her honor. Her home completes the description and it is therefore not surprising that she reacts to Roger the way she does. By the time she reaches her home with Roger reluctantly behind her, the reader already has a sense of her strong personality and sense of right and wrong. Her community spirit is evident in the way she feels duty-bound to use this opportunity to teach Roger a valuable lesson. Furthermore, she is attentive, having placed Roger's needs above her own.

Note how Langston Hughes uses obviously descriptive words and shows distinct actions. We know Luella is "large" as is her purse. The fact that she "kicked him right square" and that she is assertive, telling him that his face "will get washed this evening" is indicative of her no-nonsense attitude. Building up to a complete description helps the reader recognize any subtle references to her character when Hughes describes her home.  When Luella gets to her home, the reader instantly knows that she shares a house with a "large" kitchenette. Being a kitchenette and not a kitchen indicates that she is a woman of modest means as a kitchenette does not have all the appliances associated with a kitchen. Even in 1958, there may have been various large appliances in a kitchen that would be absent in a kitchenette. In this kitchenette, there is "a gas plate and an icebox" so there is no fridge or oven. 

The "other roomers" in Luella's home confirm the reader's earlier supposition that she has a strong sense of community. She has a clean towel at the ready showing that she has good housekeeping skills, and preparing a meal for both of them from what she has indicates good organizational skills. Luella must also have good interpersonal skills because sharing a house with various other people requires diplomacy, patience and a respect for other people, their property and their privacy. Sitting on a "day-bed" suggests that the people in the house also allow others to stay over if they need a place to stay, revealing a caring attitude.

There is little decoration at Luella's home as Hughes refers to the "barren stoop" suggesting that there are no plants or other items to make it look more inviting. This reveals that Luella is practical and realistic. This may make her seem quite tough but by the other descriptions of her home, the reader can see her dedication to her purpose. The reader expects this because by now her home has revealed sufficient information to show her as sincere and down-to-earth.  

Read the study guide:
Thank You, M'am

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