What do you learn about Roger's home life in "Thank You, Ma'am"?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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We know that Roger has no one at home at eleven o’clock at night and his family likely does not have much money.

The incident with Roger and Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones happens pretty late at night for a boy to be outside on the streets.  Roger is your typical teenager.  He wants something he can’t get, so he finds a way to get it.  When he tries to steal Mrs. Jones’s purse, she immediately can tell from looking at him that he’s not dangerous and he needs someone to look out for him.

Mrs. Jones can tell these things because, for one thing, Roger puts up very little fight.  He is clearly not used to the thug life.  Second of all, his face is dirty.  When she sees this, she takes pity on him.  She knows that no one cares or knows enough to tell him to wash it.

“Um-hum! And your face is dirty. I got a great mind to wash your face for you. Ain’t you got nobody home to tell you to wash your face?”

“No’m,” said the boy.

This exchange tells us a lot.  First of all, Roger is respectful.  She got the better of him, and he now sees her as not a victim but a motherly figure.  From this point on he pretty much does what she says.  It does not seem to occur to him not to. 

As Mrs. Jones gets Roger home, she shows him that she does care about him.  He also lets her know a little bit more about his circumstances.

“You gonna take me to jail?” asked the boy, bending over the sink.

“Not with that face, I would not take you nowhere,” said the woman. …! Maybe, you ain’t been to your supper either, late as it be. Have you?”

“There’s nobody home at my house,” said the boy.

“Then we’ll eat,” said the woman, “I believe you’re hungry—or been hungry—to try to snatch my pockekbook.”

From this exchange we learn for sure that there is no one at Roger’s house, at this time of night, in addition to the fact that no one tells him to wash his face.  It is probably because they are working.  Roger does not have money and tried to steal a purse.  When Mrs. Jones tells Roger that he must be hungry, she means it both literally and metaphorically.  Roger comes from the kind of home where he has to fend for himself.  She pities him, and decides to help him.

When Roger and Mrs. Jones discuss the reasons why he tried to steal the purse, Roger explains that he wanted a new pair of shoes.  Mrs. Jones tells him that all he had to do was ask.  Again, she is being motherly at this point.  They did not even know each other before.  She also tells him that she has done things she is not proud of, but does not tell him specifically.

Roger has many opportunities to run once she gets him home, but he doesn’t.  He doesn’t run because he desperately needs a mother figure in his life. Whatever the situation at home, Roger craves attention and guidance.  He does not get those at home.  Mrs. Jones fills this role for him.

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