In Thank you M'am, what do you learn about Roger and Mrs. Jones from their silences? Find points in the story when Roger and Mrs. Jones are silent and explain why they choose not to speak?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Thank You M'am by Langston Hughes, when a boy tries to steal Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones's purse, she is not impressed and she tells him so. However, with his unwashed face and a neglected look about him, she does recognize that this boy, who tells her that his name is Roger, needs some guidance and friendly advice.

Roger is not sure how to interpret Mrs. Jones's actions, worrying that she will take him to jail but when she suggests that he could have asked her for money instead of trying to steal it, Roger is confused. While drying his face, having been instructed by Mrs. Jones to wash it, "there was a long pause." Roger is deliberating whether he should run away or whether he should stay because Mrs. Jones is a total stranger and he needs to take in what she has said because it sounds like quite a ridiculous notion.

It is interesting that Mrs. Jones also remains quiet. She is pondering her own youth,and when she does speak, she tells Roger that she too "wanted things i could not get." The pause that follows allows Mrs. Jones to consider the possible similarities between herself and Roger. Roger is quite shocked that Mrs. Jones has revealed this and is not sure how to respond with the result that he opens his mouth and he frowns but he says nothing. When Mrs. Jones continues speaking, she stops to allow the information to sink in and also because her memory is reviving thoughts of a time of which she is perhaps not proud, having "done things" she would probably rather forget.

These silences reveal that the stories behind both characters are deeper and carry meaning beyond the scope of the words themselves. The reader is able to benefit from the silences and appreciate the difference that Mrs.Jones has had on Roger.