In "Thank You, M'am" by Langston Hughes, please analyze the plot structure of the story: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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"Thank You, M'am" by Langston Hughes is a pretty straightforward story without a lot of complicated twists and turns; however, it is also a pretty short story, which means some of the plot elements are much shorter than in a typical story.

There is virtually no exposition in this story; in fact, the inciting action (the thing that happens at the end of the exposition which triggers the action of the story) happens in the third line.

She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails. It had a long strap, and she carried it slung across her shoulder. It was about eleven o’clock at night, and she was walking alone, when a boy ran up behind her and tried to snatch her purse.

The exposition includes the revelation of setting and character, so this is what we know: a large woman is walking with a, shall we say, significant purse with a long strap, and she is walking alone at eleven o'clock one night. She is one character, and we meet the other in the next sentence, when he tries to steal that purse. The inciting action is someone trying to steal her purse, so what follows that is rising action.

Rising action is everything that happens between the inciting action and the climax (crisis, turning point).

  • The boy falls during his unsuccessful attempt at purse-snatching
  • Mrs. Louella Bates Washington Jones kicks the boy then makes him pick up her pocketbook
  • The woman scolds the boy and realizes he has no one at home to take care of him properly
  • The boy, Roger, wants to leave, but the woman insists on his going home with her
  • She walks him to her house in a headlock so he will not escape
  • She makes Roger wash his dirty face
  • Roger tells her why he wanted the money from her purse--to buy blue suede shoes
  • The door is open, but Roger hesitates to run
  • Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones tells Roger she understands him because she, too, has wanted things she could not get and has done things she is terribly ashamed of doing
  • She tells Roger to comb his hair
  • She starts fixing something to eat.

The climax is found in this paragraph:

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.

The door is open, the woman is not watching him, and her purse is exposed. Roger has every opportunity to prove himself to be a thief and a thug; instead he deliberately moves to a spot where Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones can see him. She demonstrated her trust in him, and he does not want to disappoint her. 

The falling action is quite short. The two of them talk while they eat dinner, but the woman does not ask Roger anything about his home or his family. 

The resolution does not take long, either. Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones gives Roger ten dollars to buy the shoes he so desperately wants and tells him to behave himself. All he can manage to say to her is "Thank you, M'am." He never sees her again.

A case could also be made that the falling action goes from dinner to Roger's thanking the woman, and the exposition is simply that Roger never saw her again. 

Sources:

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