Symbolically, what's interesting about Hughes's description of Mrs. Jones's purse?

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As stated previously, the woman and her purse are the first things mentioned and described in Hughes's "Thank you, Ma'am" which shows their weighty importance in this allegory about family. The sentence "She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails"...

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As stated previously, the woman and her purse are the first things mentioned and described in Hughes's "Thank you, Ma'am" which shows their weighty importance in this allegory about family. The sentence "She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails" represents the strength and power of the mother figure that is Mrs. Jones. While women are often portrayed in literature as weak and passive, Hughes portrays Mrs. Jones as strong, independent, and able-bodied. She represents the matriarch of the household in black culture whose role is to be the rock or foundation of the family. Instead of punishing Roger by calling the police, she realizes that he needs a role model and a lesson in mutual respect. The large size and weight of the purse also points to Roger's youth and innocence. Although he is trying to commit a crime, his choice in Mrs. Jones and her giant purse as his target reveal that he is inexperienced and desperate. This is one of the reasons why Mrs. Jones chooses to mentor him and show him kindness and generosity instead of pressing charges. Imagine what would have happened to Roger if he had chosen a smaller victim. Perhaps Roger was subconsciously seeking a mother figure to put him on the right path.

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"Thank You M'am" is Langston Hughes's short story about an encounter between a black teenaged boy and a woman who takes him under her wing (both literally and figuratively) after he attempts to steal her purse. Hughes describes both Mrs. Jones and her purse in the very first sentence: "She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails." Just from this description it is evident that the purse is symbolic of the power of Mrs. Jones. The purse contains a great number of things and suggests that Mrs. Jones is always prepared for whatever she may come across. Because of its weight and Mrs. Jones's strength, young Roger is unable to steal the "pocketbook," as Mrs. Jones refers to it. It is obviously larger than a pocket. The suggestion that it could hold hammer and nails also reveals that Mrs. Jones is, metaphorically, a builder, and in this case she hopes to build Roger's character by showing him kindness and that the world is not as cruel as he may have thought. It is also a symbol of the respect which Roger displays toward Mrs. Jones. Instead of taking him to the police, Mrs. Jones cooks him dinner and even gives him money to buy the shoes he so badly wants. Later in the story the purse is representative of temptation and the immediate maturity that Roger shows when he resists taking it, even though it has been placed in clear sight:

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 daybed. But the boy took care to sit on the far side of the room where he thought she could 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.  

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"Thank You M'am" by Langston Hughes commences with a description of Mrs. Jones and her purse. It says, "She was a large woman with a large purse" and this alerts the reader to the importance of both in the unfolding story. What should have been a fairly straightforward exercise for Roger becomes a life-changing event for him and the fact that Mrs. Jones's purse is so large that it contains everything except "hammer and nails" suggests that it symbolizes her no-nonsense approach and her attitude in life. The weight of the purse is substantial because with Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, what you see is what you get and the purse symbolizes that fact. She is a woman who can be taken at face value with no hidden agenda.

As soon as Roger connects with Mrs. Jones's purse, he connects with her life and she immediately becomes responsible for him. Her first observation is that his face is dirty and she confirms her suspicions about the significance of this by asking him whether there is "nobody home to tell you to wash your face."  She takes Roger in hand and intends to use this opportunity to make the world a better place.

Mrs. Jones calls her purse a "pocketbook" suggesting that maybe she also carries a bank book in there which would contain the details of her savings and so her purse holds a deep significance for her, being indicative of her (perhaps) meager wealth or savings. This does not stop her from sharing what little she has. Her large purse infers she has a good heart and just as her purse goes everywhere with her so does her social conscience and her understanding of human nature, all to Roger's good fortune. 

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