In "Thank You, M'am" how is the $10 Mrs. Jones gives Roger actually quite a sacrifice?

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shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main character in Langston Hughes' short story “Thank You, M'am” doesn't have much, other than a big body and an even bigger name: Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones. That's why the end of the story is such an ironic surprise to the reader.

When Roger, the young thief, turns to leave, Mrs. Jones gives him $10 and tells him to buy himself some blue suede shoes, which was what he tried to steal the money for in the first place. Ten dollars doesn't sound like much, especially today. But to give it some perspective, let's look at what prices were like when this story was published, in 1958. In 1958 the average price of a loaf of bread was 19 cents, a gallon of gas was 25 cents, and a postage stamp was 4 cents. Minimum wage at that time was $1.00 an hour.

So let's look at it this way, in giving Roger $10, Mrs. Jones has given him the equivalent of 50 loaves of bread, or 40 gallons of gas, or 250 postage stamps. We don't know how much money Mrs. Jones made in the hotel beauty shop, but she probably worked for something around minimum wage, which means she may have given Roger more than a full day's wages after he attempted to steal from her in the street.

We should also look at how Hughes describes the setting of where she lives. He establishes her precarious financial situation when he tells the reader that she was a “roomer,” which means she rented a room, not an entire apartment. She has a hot plate and an ice box, instead of more expensive appliances like a stove or refrigerator. She also has a day-bed, which is a bed that can convert to a couch, because she doesn't have enough space for both.

Ten dollars was no small sum for someone in Mrs. Jones situation. Her gift to Roger was generous, both financially and morally.