What are some differences and similarities between "Thank You, M'am" and "Mother to Son"?

Differences between "Thank You, M'am" and "Mother and Son" include structure, with one being a poem and the other a short story. Also, there is no biological connection between the characters in "Thank You, M'am." Similarities between them include the showcasing of a maternal relationship and the desire of an older woman to help guide a younger man.

Expert Answers

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

One of the most striking similarities between these two pieces of literature is the characterization of a strong female. Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones is determined to steer young Roger back in the right direction after he attempts to rob her. Not shying away from confrontation, she fairly drags him back to her own house after learning that he doesn't have anyone at home who will care for him. Instead of being angry with Roger, Mrs. Jones attempts to use this opportunity to provide some guidance to a boy whose actions show that he's in need of positive mentoring. She is frank with Roger, telling him that she has "done things, too, which [she] would not tell [Roger] neither tell God, if he didn’t already know."

The narrator in "Mother to Son" demonstrates this same type of strong, positive mentoring. In this poem, her son has suffered some type of defeat, implied in the mother's advice that he can't give up now when he "finds it's kinder hard." She recalls times in her own life when "life ... ain't been no crystal stair." She has walked through places "where there ain't been no light," yet she has kept "a-climbin' on." This voice is quite similar to the sense of shared experience that Mrs. Jones conveys in her conversations with Roger. Both females present an attitude of perseverance through life's struggles in their conversations with Roger and the son, admitting that they have faced their own struggles and have emerged on the other side of them.

One key difference is that the narrator in "Mother to Son" presents the shared relationship of family, while Mrs. Jones is a stranger to Roger. This contrast shows the importance in mentorship, which can exist in a variety of forms. Sometimes young people find positive influences within their own families, and sometimes family offers no such guidance. In these cases, it becomes the responsibility of the community to demonstrate compassion and strong leadership in working with youth who are headed down the wrong path.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The first obvious similarity between this short story and poem is that they are both written by Langston Hughes and deal with the relationship between a maternal figure and a much younger, impressionable man. In both cases, the maternal figure seeks to offer advice of some kind and genuinely cares for the young man to whom she is speaking. Both seek to provide encouragement—one by providing a meal and money for shoes to someone who arguably does not deserve it, and the other by using images to describe the challenges that she has survived in life and to urge her son to keep persevering no matter what happens.

There are also a number of differences between these two works. Obviously, one is a short story and the other is a poem. In “Thank You, M’am,” there is no previous relationship between the main characters, whereas in “Mother to Son,” the two would have been together since the son’s birth. In “Mother to Son,” it is the mother who has clearly endured hardships, while in “Thank You, M’am,” it can be assumed that the young man, while not destitute, has endured some kind of hardships in his life in order to turn him to a life of crime.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Here are some similiarities between the poem "Mother to Son" and the short story "Thank you, Ma'm."

Both works of literature are written by Langston Hughes in his characteristically clear and conversational style. Both concern a relationship between a woman and a younger boy; in the poem, the title suggests that the relationship is that of a mother and her son, and in the short story, the relationship is between an older woman who sees the young boy who tried to snatch her purse as a boy who could be her son. In both works, a theme of overcoming the odds is identifiable, as both the mother speaker of the poem and Mrs. Jones have struggled in their lives yet they have both found a way to be resilient.

Here are some differences between the poem "Mother to Son" and the short story "Thank you, Ma'm."

The poem "Mother to Son" is significantly shorter than the short story, and the son mentioned in the title of the poem does not have a speaking part. In the short story, both the mother character, Mrs. Jones, and the son character have speaking roles. Another difference is clear in the fact that the speaker of the poem employs the first person; the use of the first person pronoun "I" enhances the personal message of this poem. The short story is written in the third person, and the narrator offers insight into the experience of both characters, unlike the poem which concentrates on the point of view of only the speaker. Thanks to the third person narration, the reader has some understanding of the boy's personality and experience when reading the short story.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Langston Hughes uses different literary forms to project the same message. “Thank You, M’am” is a short story while “Mother to Son” is a poem. In both examples there is a strong female figure encouraging a young man to step up and not give in to life’s circumstances. In addition, both females reveal difficulties in their own lives. In the poem, the mother reminds her son with these words, “Well, son, I'll tell you: Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.” In “Thank You, M’am,” Mrs. Jones tells Roger that she did things in her a past that she is not proud of but her actions show that she moved forward to a better way of life. Both women encourage the boys to keep trying. One with her words, one with her actions. The mother instills fortitude while Mrs. Jones instills trust.

The poem uses metaphor, informal language, and imagery while the short story is a narrative, which includes dialogue between the characters. Other than the difference in literary form, the relationship of the women to the boys is different. In the poem, a mother is speaking to her son which infers a long standing relationship. In the short story, Mrs. Jones and Roger meet by chance when he attempts to steal her purse. They do not have a background but she seems to understand his circumstances of being poor, unfed, and unwashed. She does not seem surprised when he tells her there is no one home at his house even though it is late in the evening.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team