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

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What are the character traits for the characters in "Thank You, M'am"?

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Olen Bruce eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones is a strong and savvy woman who is able to wrestle Roger to the ground when he attempts to steal her purse. Although she is physically large and powerful, she has a tender heart. Rather than bringing Roger to the police, she forces him to go home with her, where she feeds him dinner and gives him $10 to buy the shoes he desperately wants. She says that she understands him as she wanted things in her youth that she could not have, and she committed acts she wouldn't want anyone to know about. Though she forces Roger to wash his face, she isn't preachy. She is sympathetic and generous, and she shares what she has with the boy. She cares about what happens to him and advises him to be careful in the future. She won't even really allow Roger to say thank you, as she closes the door in his face as he is trying to thank her for the money.

Roger is about 14 or 15 and is thin and frail. Though he tries to steal Mrs. Jones's purse, he is clearly afraid of her and attempts to get away from her at first. He isn't trusting, and he tells her that he has no one at home. He clearly has a difficult life, and he is amazed that Mrs. Jones will simply give him the money to buy the shoes he wants. He is apparently not used to having sympathetic adults around him or to getting what he wants, which is why he resorts to using force. However, he isn't really the forceful type, and Mrs. Jones senses right away that Roger isn't a bad kid but a kid who simply needs attention.

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beateach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There are only two characters, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones and Roger, in Langston Hughes’ short story “Thank You, M’am.” He uses both direct and indirect characterization to develop their personalities.

Hughes characterizes Mrs. Jones as a dignified, hard-working woman with a no nonsense attitude. Although she is a physically imposing person, her interactions with Roger exemplify her quiet, patient, compassionate nature. Mrs. Jones is walking home alone, late at night, from her job when Roger attempts to steal her pocketbook. Instead of screaming or calling the police, Mrs. Jones takes Roger home and teaches him a life lesson based on her own life experiences. After asking him a number of questions about his home life, she recognizes that Roger is a product of his Harlem environment. She teaches him to expect more from himself. She is kind enough to share her supper with him, but more importantly she shares her own experiences. She lets Roger know that she did some unacceptable things in her past. She cleverly allows Roger to make his own decisions about fleeing her apartment, which teaches Roger to trust in himself.

Roger is a young man who is growing up on the mean streets of Harlem, which greatly influences his character. He tells Mrs. Jones that no one is home at his house, which is why he is unfed and unkempt. Although he is bold enough to steal Mrs. Jones’ pocketbook, Roger demonstrates that he can be trustworthy during the short time he spends in Mrs. Jones’ apartment. He does not take her purse and run away, instead he stays and interacts respectfully with Mrs. Jones. Langston Hughes characterizes Roger as contrite and thankful at the end of the story when Mrs. Jones gives him money to purchase the shoes he wants.

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