What is a brief summary of "Thank you, M'am" by Langston Hughes?

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Vikash Lata eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones is a stout woman who is heading to her home through a deserted street late at night. Roger, a misguided teenage, comes running up behind her in order to snatch away the large purse slung over her shoulder.

His attempt fails as the strap breaks, and he falls on the ground. She “simply” turns around, kicks him, and grabs him by his shirt. He is too “frail and willow-wild” to free himself from the tight clutch of the large Mrs Bates. When she asks him if he is ashamed of himself, he says he is ashamed.

Mrs. Jones notices Roger’s dirty face. She asks him if there is no one at his home to tell him to wash his face. He replies, “No’m.” She holds him tight and drags him off toward her home. She thinks he might be hungry. When she asks him if he is, he says he is not hungry. He is actually afraid and thinks that she might hand him over to the police.

She does not loosen her grip on him until they are home. Finally, she frees him from her half-nelson hold and asks him to wash his face.

"Let the water run until it gets warm,” she said. “Here’s a clean towel.”

Roger must be startled by these affectionate words; however, he is still doubtful of her plan. He asks her if she is going to take him to jail.

Mrs. Jones learns that there is nobody at his home to cook him food or look after him. She says, “Then we’ll eat.”

Roger starts opening up and tells her that he attempted to steal because he wanted to buy a pair of suede shoes. When she says he could have asked her for money instead of attempting to steal, he is greatly amazed. He does not seem to believe her.

Seeing the open door before him, he feels an urge to run away. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jones says, “I were young once and I wanted things I could not get.” She then goes on to share with him her personal feelings and experiences, not in much detail, though. She says,

I have done things, too, which I would not tell you, son—neither tell God, if he didn’t already know.

She makes sure not to make the young boy feel awkward. She does not ask him any question about “where he lived, or his folks, or anything else that would embarrass him.” Instead, she tells him about her job in a hotel beauty shop. She then tells him to comb his hair so that he might “look presentable.”

When Mrs. Jones goes into the kitchen, Roger could have easily escaped. However, he remains in her house.

He did not trust the woman not to trust him. And he did not want to be mistrusted now.

After the modest supper comprised of heated lima beans, ham, and cocoa, she cuts him “a half of her ten-cent cake.”

Finally, she gives him ten dollars and says, “buy yourself some blue suede shoes.” She also tells him that he should never try to steal again her pocketbook, or anybody else’s for that matter, “because shoes come by devilish like that will burn your feet.” In this way, she teaches him that stealing is bad, and money earned from evil ways will only bring in troubles.

The boy seems to be overwhelmed with emotions. He wants to express his feelings of gratitude and respect for Mrs. Jones by saying something other than simply “Thank you, m’am.” However, all he is able to utter is “Thank you” before she shuts the door.

kathik eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Langston Hughes' short story "Thank You, Ma'am" is a tale about a young teenager who tries to steal a woman's purse to buy himself new blue suede shoes. The woman, Mrs. Jones, scolds and grabs the boy, Roger, and takes him home with her. Roger thinks she is going to turn him over to the police, but she does not. She talks to him in an understanding way, saying she did things when she was younger that she is not proud of today. While in her boarding room, she leaves Roger alone to cook supper for them. Roger realizes that he can easily escape AND take her purse with him, but by that time, he does not want to. He wants Mrs. Jones to trust him. After supper, Mrs. Jones gives Roger money for the shoes he wants.

"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." (Hughes 3)