In Thank You, M'am, if the theme is second chances, how does the author help develop it?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thank You, M'am by Langston Hughes has the potential to have more than one outcome. However, by revealing that everyone deserves a second chance, Hughes relies on the belief that anyone can turn his or her life around if he is given the right opportunities. This short story relies on both Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones and her positive outlook and also on Roger and his ability to be responsive and become more trusting. 

Hughes therefore develops this theme by first introducing Mrs. Jones as a strong woman with a very matter-of-fact outlook on life, a woman who has high expectations of everyone, herself included. Roger clearly needs a strong mother figure to help him if he is to reform and so Hughes capitalizes on Mrs. Jones's character development in revealing how Roger is powerless once she has "a half-nelson" around his neck. 

Interestingly, Hughes also develops this theme by revealing how Roger also gives Mrs. Jones a second chance after his initial opinion of her. Roger enters Mrs. Jones's house desperate to try and get away. However, he sees how she trusts him and decides to try trusting her by relaxing a little and even offering to run an errand for her. Roger leaves her house with $10 in his pocket and a realization that a mere thank you falls far short of the debt of gratitude he owes Mrs. Jones. 

The dialogue also contributes to the theme of second chances as Mrs. Jones reveals that she "wanted things' but that she knew that there were accepted boundaries that she wouldn't cross. She does not then lecture Roger but reveals her own shortcomings and embarrassment at the things only "God" knows and which she cannot reveal to Roger. This reveals the similarities between the characters and develops the plot as it moves towards a positive conclusion. Hughes does not say that Roger turns his life around or that Mrs. Jones goes on to help others like Roger. By leaving the open ending, Hughes reveals the potential for anyone, even the reader who can draw his or her own conclusions and even take this opportunity to give someone else a second chance.