Discuss the role of flashbacks in the story "Thank You, Ma'am"?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Part of what makes Hughes' story a great one is that he only gives the reader a sliver of a glimpse into the past of Mrs. Jones.   The flashbacks that are present only reveal themselves when she speaks to Roger about her own past. It is in this moment of empathy where the reader is made aware that the flashback is present, but cannot be understood.  She expresses to Roger that there are actions in her past that form the essence of regret.  However, we, as the reader, do not know what they are.  All we know is all Roger knows:  They are bad and they have helped bring her to this moment where she is helping Roger.  It is here where flashbacks bring an added dimension to Mrs. Jones.  Yet, as with much that is great in Hughes' writing, we do not know exactly what dimension is present.  Like the use of flashback through dialogue itself, we know it is there, but its exactitude escape us.  It might be here where Hughes is trying to bring out a point about the role our flashbacks play in our being in the world.  They help to bring out a part of our identity, yet we are not chained by them.  What we do in the future and in the present can be animated by our flashbacks, as shown with Mrs. Jones, but we do not have to be enslaved by them.  It is here where the role of the flashback is something that helps to enhance her character, explaining in part her motivation, but is something that lies outside our realm and is something for her to only know.