In "Thank You M'am," what does one of the characters want?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Langston Hughes's short story "Thank You, M'am," Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones wants Roger to learn to respect people.

When Roger attempts to steal Mrs. Jones's purse, the strap breaks and Roger falls backward. As Roger falls, Mrs. Jones has the chance to give him a swift kick in the seat of his pants. Furthermore, she does what most mothers in her neighborhood would have done during the time of this story if their sons were to misbehave:

...she reached down, picked the boy up by his shirt front, and shook him until his teeth rattled.

Rather than let the boy run off, Mrs. Jones demonstrates a caring nature. She tells Roger:

“You ought to be my son. I would teach you right from wrong. Least I can do right now is to wash your face. Are you hungry?”

Despite Roger's protests that he is not hungry and just wants to be turned loose, Mrs. Jones drags Roger to her rooms at a boarding house. There she has him wash his face, and she prepares their evening meal. Without watching him so that he does not go into her purse, Mrs. Jones demonstrates trust as she heats the food. Cautiously, Roger moves away from the purse to avoid any suspicion. After the meal, Mrs. Jones generously gives Roger ten dollars, telling him to buy his shoes. She also urges him to never steal money for a pair of shoes because "shoes come by devilish like that will burn your feet."

Having earned Roger's respect, Mrs. Jones says goodbye to him after their meal, and she starts to close the door. A stunned Roger wants to say more than "Thank you," but he can think of nothing. He just turns and looks at the large woman in the doorway with respect for Mrs. Jones in his eyes.

price7781 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think you are wondering what Roger wanted to buy when he tried to steal Mrs. Jones’ purse at the beginning of the story. Like many young people, Roger wanted the newest, coolest thing—a pair of blue suede shoes.  The artist, Carl Perkins, recorded a song called, “Blue Suede Shoes” in 1956, and later, the song became popular when Elvis Presley recorded it.  I think owning a pair of blue suede shoes would be similar to wearing the newest Air Jordans today.

In an act of kindness after teaching Roger about the consequences of stealing, Mrs. Jones gives Roger $10.00 for the shoes. That was a hefty sum back then, and the expense of the shoes might explain why Roger needed to steal to get what he wanted.  Hopefully, however, Roger learned his lesson, bought the shoes, and when out dancing that night.