How could I go about proving that in Hughes's "Thank You, M'am," Mrs. Jones's words and actions help to develop the story's theme?
The theme of compassion is evident in Mrs. Jones's words and actions.
Compassion is a very important theme in "Thank You, M'am." While Roger and Mrs. Jones live in a financially challenged situation, Hughes suggests that emotions like love and care can be transcendent values. These ideals go beyond people' surroundings. Through Mrs. Jones, Hughes argues that individuals can show emotions that foster human connection and widen community. The theme of compassion is displayed in how Mrs. Jones establishes a collective identity with Roger.
One way the compassion theme is seen in Mrs. Jones's beliefs and deeds is in her treatment of Roger. She calls him by his name. She insists that he clean himself and that he share dinner with him. This act of communion is rooted in the nurturing of another human being. Finally, she gives him the money that he obviously needs. She does not need to do this. However, she seeks to "buy" him from "the devilish like" that caused their paths to cross in the first place.
Mrs. Jones speaks to Roger with love and care in telling him about both her own life ("I have done things, too, which I would not tell you, son—neither tell God, if he didn’t already know") and in telling him to "behave himself" in the future. Mrs. Jones's words and actions demonstrate the compassion theme that is a critical part of Hughes's short story.