What does the dialogue between Roger and Mrs.Jones, as well as their actions, reveal about their character traits in "Thank You, Ma'am"?  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The dialogue between Roger and Mrs. Jones reveals that they each know something about the other automatically, yet they also have something to learn.

Mrs. Jones, who walks home late at night, is familiar with the danger that she faces by doing so. Consequently, she has her purse weighted down with "everything but a hammer and nails" and is prepared to defend herself against purse snatchers. When Roger tries to steal this purse, she overpowers him, but realizes quickly that he is not really what might be termed a juvenile delinquent. For, Roger is polite when she asks, "Now, ain't you ashamed?" and he replies, "Yes'm."

The woman said, “What did you want to do it for?” The boy said, “I didn’t aim to.” She said, “You a lie!”

Although Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones is angry that this boy has tried to steal her purse, she is understanding of the boy. She tells him:

“But you put yourself in contact with me,” said the woman. “If you think that that contact is not going to last awhile, you got another thought coming. When I get through with you, sir, you are going to remember Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones."

Clearly, Mrs. Jones realizes that Roger has had no real parenting. So, with a kind but firm heart, she takes Roger home and makes a meal for him. And, with new respect for Mrs. Jones, Roger makes sure that he stands where she can see that he does not try to steal anything out of her purse. "He did not trust the woman not to trust him." Roger wants to earn some respect from Mrs. Jones.

Before he leaves, Roger is given supper and then Mrs. Jones gives him the money for some new shoes, telling him not to try stealing anymore.

“Now, here, take this ten dollars and buy yourself some blue suede shoes."

Roger wants to say more than just "Thank you, m'am," but the door shuts on him. He realizes that Mrs. Jones has been firm, but caring. Mrs. Jones has shown him that if he steals a purse, he takes a valuable possession from a real person.