In “Thank You, M’am,” what theme is the author, Langston Hughes, exploring?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Langston Hughes explores many themes. One of the most apparent overarching ideas is the power of grace. In this story, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones is walking home from work when a young man approaches her and tries to snatch her bag from her. She manages to keep her bag after the strap breaks and the boy loses his balance. After he falls, she reacts,

The large woman simply turned around and kicked him right square in his blue-jeaned sitter. Then she reached down, picked the boy up by his shirt front, and shook him until his teeth rattled.

At first, the woman seeks justice, literally kicking him for his attempted crime. However, then she begins to show the boy grace. She invites him into her home, insists that he wash himself, and provides him with food and even hot cocoa. She talks with him about his life, and she asks him what he wanted money for. Rather than wanting money for food or another essential, the boy shares that he wanted blue suede shoes. Instead of getting angry with him or pointing out his selfishness, Mrs. Bates explains that she was young once, too, and had similar desires for material luxuries:

I were young once and I wanted things I could not get.

As she tries to understand the situation from the young man's perspective, she grows in compassion for him. (Empathy / compassion is another theme we see in the story.) By the end of the story, she gives the boy $10 for his shoes and reminds him that it is wrong to steal:

Now, here, take this ten dollars and buy yourself some blue suede shoes. And next time, do not make the mistake of latching onto my pocketbook nor nobody else’s—because shoes come by devilish like that will burn your feet.

Mrs. Jones shows grace and compassion to the young man, rather than mere justice. She invests her time and resources into showing him kindness, even after he wronged her. This grace has the power to impact the young man's future behavior.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial