How would you describe the style of narration in Langston Hughes' "Thank You, M'am"?

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yscorse eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Langston Hughes’ 1958 short story is written from the point of view of a third-person narrator. The story begins with a rather objective narration style that could be described as a “fly on the wall” technique. The narrator tells the story in almost a journalistic or documentary style; the report is seemingly fact-based and free of opinion statements.

This narration technique has several effects. If the story had been narrated by the teen boy Roger, the reader would have a clearer idea of his motives. Instead, the reader must infer aspects of his character from details provided in the text about Roger’s appearance and actions. For example, Roger’s thin and dirty appearance and the fact that he is out alone late at night imply that he may be neglected and likely living in poverty. Similarly, if the story had been written from the point of view of Mrs. Jones, the reader may feel greater sympathy for her and better understand her motives in helping Roger. The objective narration style means we learn about Mrs. Jones through her words and actions. She feeds Roger dinner and share with him that she too has made mistakes and has regrets. Later in the story as Mrs. Jones is preparing their meal, the narration shifts slightly to a third person limited point of view, revealing Roger's thoughts: “He did not want to be mistrusted now.” This shift gives the reader an insight that Mrs. Jones’ kindness may be affecting Roger for the better.

The third-person narration creates a somewhat removed, objective effect, which adds realism and allows the reader to determine the characters’ motives. This technique relates to a theme of the story: you can’t really understand others until you know their circumstances.