Langton Hughes’s short story “Thank You, M’am” is narrated from a third-person point of view. An observer who is not involved in the story describes the action and characters. This third-person narrator is limited because the narrator has insight into or access to the thoughts of only one character: Roger. On the other hand, Mrs. Jones—the character who catches Roger trying to pickpocket her and surprisingly overpowers the boy—initially seems like a mystery. The narrator is not omniscient and does not know what Mrs. Jones is thinking.
A passage that demonstrates the story’s third-person limited point of view is the description of Roger and Mrs. Jones after Roger washes his face. When she releases Roger from a neck hold, she orders him to wash his face at a sink in her room. Surprised to be set free, Roger complies but then does not know what to do:
The water dripping from his face, the boy looked at her. There was a long pause. A very long pause. After he had dried his face and not knowing what else to do dried it again, the boy turned around, wondering what next. The door was open. He could make a dash for it down the hall. He could run, run, run, run, run!
The woman was sitting on the day bed. After a while she said, "I were young once and I wanted things I could not get."
The action is told from a third-person point of view. Nonetheless, the narrator knows that Roger is confused and unsure of what to do, as evinced by the awkward “long pause.” The narrator reads the boy’s mind and feels his adrenaline; Roger “could make a dash for it … He could run, run, run, run, run!”
In contrast, Mrs. Jones is self-assured and calm. She quietly and patiently sits on her bed; to her, the pause is not awkward. She is just taking her time to collect her thoughts and “after a while” reveals her empathy with the young boy.
Earlier, the narrator displays Roger’s indecision to run or stay. When Mrs. Jones first turns him loose, he “looked at the door—looked at the woman—looked at the door—and went to the sink.” Later, we realize that he has a change of heart:
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.
The narrator does not reveal what Mrs. Jones is thinking; we as readers can only interpret her possibly sympathetic and trusting thoughts from her actions. On the other hand, the narrator explicitly tells us that Roger carefully chooses his seat in order to stay within her sight and that he now wishes to be trusted by her.