How are the themes of kindness and trust communicated in the story?

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beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The themes of a piece of literature are implied messages the author conveys to the reader. In “Thank You, M’am” by Langston Hughes, the themes of kindness and trust are evident throughout the story.

The theme of trust is developed from the beginning of the story when Roger attempts to steal Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones’ “kitchen sink” pocketbook. Although, she has him in her grasp, she trusts him to pick up the purse and not run away. After she drags him back to her rooming house, the pair carry on a conversation during which Mrs. Jones reveals things from her past. She trusts Roger to understand her reasons for divulging her own desperate times.

The door to her room remains open while she instructs Roger to wash up, and when she goes behind the curtain to cook their meal. Her purse sits in plain sight so that if Roger chose to, he could grab it and run. He does not because at this point he wants to be trusted.

In another corner of the room behind a screen was a gas plate and an icebox. Mrs. Jones got up and went behind the screen. The woman did not watch the boy to see if he was going to run now, nor did she watch her purse which she left behind her on the day-bed. 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.

In addition, the theme of kindness runs throughout the story. Mrs. Jones decides not to call the authorities when Roger tries to steal her purse, instead she takes him home to teach him a lesson with her actions. She notices he is a hungry, neglected young man, which prompts her to encourage him to look presentable, and share her meager supper with him. This includes splitting a ten cent dessert. While she is preparing the meal, Roger offers to run to the store for anything she might need as he tries to reciprocate for her kindness towards him.

Her greatest kindness may have been the respect she shows him by not asking him questions about his home life so as not to embarrass him. Others would argue the utmost kindness occurred at the end of the story when Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones hands him money so he can buy the blue suede shoes he so desperately wants.

When they were finished eating she got up and said, “Now, here, take this ten dollars and buy yourself some blue suede shoes.  

He is rendered practically speechless by this act of kindness towards him.

The boy wanted to say something else other than “Thank you, m’am” to Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, but he couldn’t do so as he turned at the barren stoop and looked back at the large woman in the door. He barely managed to say “Thank you” before she shut the door. And he never saw her again.