What is the climax of the story "Thank You, M'am" by Langston Hughes?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator
In the short story "Thank You, M'am," a young thief named Roger tries to steal the purse of Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, a robust, strong woman who is not about to let some thug just run away with her belongings. She goes as far as,
Kick[ing] 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.
Clearly, Mrs. Bates Washington Jones takes complete control of the situation and teaches the boy a lesson. 
 
Now, such an explosive introduction makes us wonder what the climax will be. The climax is the part of the plot where the reader finds himself wondering and expecting the most about what could happen next; it is the moment of highest intensity. 
 
In this short story, we had a high intensity moment at the beginning of the tale. However, since it does not lead to the falling action (the last parts of the story), we cannot say that this is the climax, no matter how exciting it seems; there is still a lot more that will happen later.  
 
This being said, since the climax comes before the resolution, let us look at what event was most important, or curious, right before the end. 

After the takedown by Ms. Bates Washington Jones, she actually remains in control of the situation by inviting the young thief to her home to eat. In a turn of events that leaves the reader wondering, we get to the point where we want to know why this kid wanted to steal in the first place. According to Roger, he wanted to get a pair of blue suede shoes. The answer that Luella gives him is that he could have simply asked her. 

After they eat, talk, and share, a transformation has occurred; the boy does not want to be mistrusted by Luella and even offers to run errands for her to the store. Instead,  the moment of surprise arrives: Luella gives the thief ten dollars to go get his blue suede shoes. 

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 nobodoy else's—because shoes got by devilish ways will burn your feet.

The shock of the action is so profound that Roger does not even know what to say:

The boy wanted to say something else other than “Thank you, m’am”. . . but he couldn’t do so. . . He barely managed to say “Thank you” before she shut the door. And he never saw her again.

Therefore, the action that allows for this ending to take place is the gift that Luella gives Roger, which comes as a surprise to both the reader and, seemingly, to Roger himself. 

kathik eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the short story, "Thank You, M'am," by Langston Hughes, a boy named Roger tries to steal Mrs. Jones' purse. Mrs. Jones takes him to her room in a boarding house despite his pleas for her to let him go. She makes him wash his face and when she finds out there is nobody at his home, she tells him they will share supper. Roger worries that Mrs. Jones will take him to jail, but she just asks him why he tried to take her purse and then talks to him, showing him understanding. The climax in the story comes when Mrs. Jones leaves the boy alone, so that she can cook their food.

"Mrs. Jones got up and went behind the screen. The woman did not watch the boy to see if he was going to run now, nor did she watch her purse which she left behind her on the day-bed. But the boy took care to sit on the far side of the room where he thought she could easily see him out of the corner of her eye, if she wanted to." (Hughes 3)

Roger could have easily run. He could have easily taken her purse, which was right there, but he does not. Instead, he stays, and he and Mrs. Jones eat together. The story ends with her giving him money for the shoes he wants.