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Thank you M'am by Langston Hughes reveals the impact that a well-placed attempt to make a difference in someone else's life can have. Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones is not about to ignore the signs when Roger tries to steal her purse. She could so easily have taken him to the police or could have just let him go but she takes it upon herself to make this inopportune encounter into a potentially life-changing event.
In discussing the conflict in this story, the reader recognizes internal and external conflict. The first easily recognizable conflict is that between Mrs. Jones and Roger and is man-against man, an external conflict. It is this conflict which results in Roger being unwillingly dragged into Mrs. Jones's kitchen after having unsuccessfully tried to steal from her . However, in exploring this conflict, it is clear that it is based on another conflict, Roger's own need (or conflict) to satisfy his desire for a new pair of suede shoes. Roger does not have the money because he is apparently poor, and it seems on the face of it, neglected. This leads to a conflict of man versus society where inequality creates divides and leads to many social problems. This conflict also contributes to Roger finding himself in Mrs. Jones's kitchen as his attempts to resolve his problem in this manner have failed.
Another conflict is Mrs. Jones's own internal conflict as she struggles against herself and her memories of a difficult childhood when she too "wanted things I could not get." Roger ends up in her kitchen because she cannot ignore his dirty face and realizes that she could be instrumental in helping Roger when perhaps in her own childhood there wasn't anyone to do the same for her. Her empathy, considerate words and kind gesture when she gives him the money for the shoes will hopefully have far-reaching consequences.
The conflict that led Roger into Mrs. Jones' kitchen in "Thank You Ma'am" is when he attempted steal her purse. Normally, this would have led to Roger being arrested, but Mrs. Jones recognized that he was not a thug. She saw a vulnerable child that was a product of his environment. Therefore, she took this young man home so that she could feed his body and mind.
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