What are three themes in the story "Thank You, M'am"?

There are many powerful themes in "Thank You, M'am," one of which is the idea that respect and compassion have more power to influence people than judgment and punishment.

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When one treats others with respect and compassion, it is more impactful than derision and judgment. Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones treats the boy who tries to steal her purse, Roger, with care and respect rather than turning him into the police as he fears. She cares more about understanding why Roger is making the poor choices that he is rather than the fact that he has made them. She does not seek to punish him or to belittle and lecture him. She wants him to understand that his actions have consequences and can hurt people, though. It seems very likely, given Roger’s behavior and gratitude, that her compassionate response makes a significant impact on him.

It is impossible to know just by appearances what someone has been through, or is going through, in their personal life that might influence their behavior. Mrs. Jones takes the time to find out why Roger is making the choices he is, and she reveals that she used to make similarly poor choices in her youth. She understands, evidently, what it feels like to be in his position, though she might have initially simply judged him to be a thief; and that may be what happened to her as well when she was younger, causing her to act differently now.

Young people make mistakes, and these mistakes deserve to be forgiven. Certainly, all people make errors in judgment, but when young people, like Roger, make such errors, they especially deserve another chance to learn and to grow. Youth is a time of growth, and we cannot expect the young to know everything adults should.

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One theme in Thank you, Ma'am is the power of compassion. After nearly having her purse stolen by Roger, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones has every right to turn toward him in anger and even demand some form of justice. However, she meets Roger with compassion, going so far as to open her home to him. Mrs. Jones has a keen perception about Roger's circumstances, and when he tells her, "There's nobody home at my house," Mrs. Jones provides a meal to this wold-be thief.

The story ends with the note that Roger "want[s] to say something else other than 'Thank you, m'am'" for the compassion he's been shown, and although it is noted that the paths of these two never cross again, it seems that Mrs. Jones has given Roger a reason to choose a different path in life.

Another theme is that human strength can be found in unlikely places. Roger certainly doesn't choose a "victim" who he thinks will put up a fight. Not only does Mrs. Jones retain possession of her purse, she also effectively takes control of the situation:

But the boy's weight and the weight of the purse combined caused him to lose his balance so, instead of taking off full blast as he had hoped, the boy fell on his back on the sidewalk, and his legs flew up. The large woman...

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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.

Furthermore, she chastises the boy and questions whether he's ashamed of himself. Roger underestimates the wrong lady, and Mrs. Jones proves herself a fearless adversary when attacked.

Finally, in the fallout of an attempted mugging, this story explores one final theme: the duality of trust. Mrs. Jones has to extend trust to invite Roger into her home. Likewise, Roger has to extend trust to allow himself to be led away into her home and to remain there when he realizes that he has the opportunity to bolt. In order to mend relationships and society at large, people must extend trust to each other, even in difficult situations.

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Three themes present in "Thank You, Ma'am" are Forgiveness and Empathy, the Power of Love and Trust, and Christian Charity.

  • Forgiveness and Empathy

When Roger first snatches the purse of Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, she wrestles him and drags him to her furnished room at the rear of a house. Once insides Mrs. Jones asks the boy his name and tells him to wash his face in the sink?

"You gonna take me to jail?".... 

"Not with that face, I would not take you nowhere," said the woman. "Here I am trying to get home to cook me a bite to eat and you snatch my pocketbook! Maybe, you ain’t been to your supper either, late as it be. Have you?" 

Perceiving that Roger is neglected and hungry, Mrs. Jones forgives him and with her motherly nature --"You ought to be my son. I would teach you right from wrong"--she forgives Roger and cooks him a meal.  She also tells Roger that she, too, has done wrong, and offers him empathy, "Everybody's got something in common."

  • The Power of Love and Trust

While she prepares the meal, Mrs. Jones leaves her purse on the other side of the screen where she cooks. Roger worries that she may not trust him, so he moves where he hopes she can see him. "And he did not want to be mistrusted now." And, as Mrs. Jones talks with Roger, she does not ask him anything about himself which could be embarrassing.

  • Christian Charity

Despite Roger's attempted robbery, Mrs. Jones understands his poverty and want. So, she gives him ten dollars for the purchase of some blue suede shoes with the admonition to not steal again. Leading him down the hall, she says, "Good night! Behave yourself, boy!" Stunned by her charity and kindness, Roger cannot even utter a thank you, so stunned is he by her charity.

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How does the title "Thank You, M’am" relate to the story’s themes?

I would argue that two of the main themes in this story are generosity and the transformation of young Roger, based on his encounter with Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones. Roger is grateful to Mrs. Jones—for the meal, for the life lesson, and for the money for his suede shoes, making “Thank You, M’am” a fitting title.

In the first place, Roger can be grateful that Mrs. Jones doesn’t beat him to a pulp or report him to the police, having thoroughly overpowered him in the tussle initiated by his attempt to rob her. The theme of generosity is taken a step further when Mrs. Jones invites Roger into her home and offers him a meal. Her kindness does not stop there—she actually gives him the money that he needs to buy the shoes he wants so badly. Having failed to steal the money from her, he gets it anyway. Since “thank you” is the universal expression of gratitude, the title relates to the theme of Mrs. Jones’s generosity.

Although we are not told how Roger’s life pans out after the end of his encounter with Mrs. Jones, I would argue that it is unlikely that he would try to rob anybody again. She has therefore taught him some valuable life lessons, and it stands to reason that he is grateful to her for potentially changing the trajectory of his life. Therefore, the words “thank you” tie into the theme of Roger’s transformation as well.

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What are the themes of "Thank You, M'am"?

Several of the themes explored by author Langston Hughes in his short story "Thank You, M'am" include those of forgiveness, love and trust, and respect for human dignity. After Roger fails in his attempt to snatch the purse of the imposing Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, she chooses not to call the police; instead, she drags him to her tiny apartment and provides him with a chance to clean himself and then feed him. She shares her meager meal with him, and then turns her back, leaving her precious purse in plain view with the door wide open. In doing so, she shows her trusting nature, providing Roger with a second chance--to either grab the money and run or remain to face the consequences. She takes the time to find out a little about Roger and shows her concern for him being out alone on the streets so late at night. She treats him with respect and, in the end, even provides him with the money to buy the blue suede shoes he so desires. Roger leaves the apartment realizing he has been given a second chance; that he has been honorably treated, and that he has been forgiven by the woman for his misdeed.

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What are the themes of "Thank You, M'am"?

Above all, the story is about the power that love and trust can wield. A misguided young boy, who has taken to theft and robbery, undergoes a drastic change during his brief interaction with the affectionate lady, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones.

Roger is taken aback by the way Mrs. Jones treats him. At one time, he must have thought that Mrs. Jones would hand him over to the police. Instead, she takes him to her home. With motherly affection, she scolds him and asks him to wash his face. He is quite surprised when Mrs. Jones offers him her own towel and comb to make himself presentable. After that, they have dinner together, and at last, she gifts him ten dollars to buy himself a pair of suede shoes.

We notice the change in Roger. There were moments when he could have easily escaped from Mrs. Jones’ home, even with her purse. But the trust that she has shown in him has quashed his desire to rob the “large woman.” Now, he wants to live up to her trust. Besides, he feels a sense of dignity when she shares her experience and thoughts with him at the dining table.

Moreover, the power of forgiveness is another important theme in the story. Instead of forgiving him, had Mrs. Jones handed him over to the police, he could have possibly turned into a hardened criminal. He might have harbored a grudge against her with a desire to avenge himself. But, the act of forgiveness has changed him, so that we start hoping that he will no longer steal or rob anybody else in the future.

In this way, we see that the themes of love, trust, forgiveness and respect weave through this story by Langston Hughes.

Apart from these, the story also reflects the contemporary social and economic problems affecting the likes of Mrs. Jones and Roger. We see Mrs. Jones, a self-dependent woman, working throughout the day and returning late at night to earn a livelihood. On the other hand, the society has members like Roger, who are deprived of proper parenting and education. To make a living, they often adopt illegal ways. 

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What are the themes of "Thank You, M'am"?

To me, the theme of this story is that people can be transformed by love and trust more than they can be transformed by fear and punishment.

In the story, Roger is a thief.  But when he meets up with Mrs. Jones, his life is changed because she catches him.

But she does not call the police or tell his parents or anything.  Instead, she treats him well and shows that she trusts him.

This works, in my opinion, because people often behave the way they are expected to behave.  That is the theme of the story in my opinion -- the idea that if you trust someone and treat them well, you can change their life.

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In "Thank You, M'am," what theme is the author, Langston Hughes, exploring?

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.

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