Thank You, M'am Questions and Answers
by Langston Hughes

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What are three themes in the story Thank you M'am?

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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 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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