What is the cause of Mrs. Jones's stress in the short story Thank you Ma'm by Langston Hughes?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Thank You M'am by Langston Hughes, Mrs. Luella Washington Jones is a good hard-working citizen who understands how difficult life can be. When a young boy, Roger, tries to steal her purse, she immediately recognizes far more in him than his tendency to steal in order to be able to get what he wants. She is a no-nonsense woman and accepts what she sees as a challenge to at least have some influence over and effect on this boy. His unclean face and appearance alert her to the fact that he is probably a little neglected and in need of some adult supervision as she says to him, "I got a great mind to wash your face for you." This is the cause of her stress and the reason why she makes the decision to take Roger to her home, make him wash his face, give him a meal and ultimately even give him enough money to buy the shoes that he so desperately wants and which caused him to try to steal her purse in the first place. Although, Roger is shocked and a little afraid at first, it soon becomes obvious that Mrs. Luella Washington Jones has his best interests at heart, and he relaxes a little, deciding not to run away from her home and even offering to go to the store for her if she needs him to.

It is the sense of responsibility which Mrs. Luella Washington Jones feels that creates the anxiety (stress) she feels to do the best thing for the boy. She knows that otherwise he could go on stealing from others but she wants him to understand that there can be no excuse for stealing regardless of circumstances. She admits that she has "done things, too, which I would not tell you, son." She warns Roger that "shoes come by devilish like that will burn your feet" and sends him on his way, almost pleading with him to "behave." She can only hope that she has had the best possible influence over him.