What does Mrs.Jones's dialogue in "Thank you M'am" reveal about her? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A stout, strong woman, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones has seen much of life herself and now takes what happens to her "in stride" as she displays no surprise or distress when the boy attempts the theft of her purse. Instead, like an experienced mother or other instructor of youth, having "[F]irmly gripped [him] by his shirt front," she asks the boy is he is not ashamed of himself. Further, when the boy pretends that he did not "mean to," she scolds, "You a lie!"

Fully in command of the situation, Mrs. Jones receives the truth from the boy when she asks him if he will run away if she releases her wrestling hold on him. Then, with the diplomacy of motherly experience, Mrs. Jones notes that this boy is uncared for, 

"And your face is dirty. I got a great mind to wash your face for you. Ain’t you got nobdy home to tell you to wash your face?"

Noticing how frail he is, as well, Mrs. Jones continues,

“You ought to be my son. I would teach you right from wrong. Least I can do right now is to wash your face. Are you hungry?" 

As this warm-hearted woman takes him home to her modest one-room in a boarding house and shares her meager meal with the boy, she explains to him why she has not let him go: his actions have involved him with her life. Yet she does not scold him, instead displaying concern for the boy physical needs and asking him his name. When she tells Roger that he could have asked her for money for the blue suede shoes he desires, the boy is stunned by her charity.

The understanding of Mrs. Jones reveals that she, too, has longed for things and she, too, has done things of which she is ashamed. But, never does she judge the boy by saying "but I didn't snatch people's pocketbooks."  Obviously moved by this woman's honest heart. the boy tries to reciprocate her charity by asking if he can run to the store for her.

After their meal, Mrs. Jones gives Roger ten dollars for blue suede shoes, telling him to never steal again because shoes obtained through theft will burn his feet; that is, they will always remind him of his sinful deed. Leading him to the door, Mrs. Jones bids him good-bye, ordering him "Behave yourself, boy!" Nearly speechless with gratitude for her kindness, the boy barely gets his thanks out before she closes the door on the important part that she has played in his life. For, Mrs. Jones has given Roger the physical gifts of cleanliness and food, restoring basic human dignity to him; her spritual gifts are equality, trust, and encouragement to achieve self-esteem.