What effect will Mrs. Jones have on Roger's future in Langston Hughes's short story "Thank You, M'am"?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Langston Hughes's short story "Thank You, M'am," Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones significantly influences Roger through compassion, care, and generosity. When Roger tries to steal her purse, saying it is because he wanted to buy some blue suede shoes, she brings him to her home, cooks him dinner, shares dessert with him, and hands him 10 dollars to buy his shoes. At that moment of his life when he encountered Mrs. Jones, Roger was living on the streets as an abandoned orphan, as we see when he tells her he has no family, no home, and no dinner waiting home for him. Although her kindness only lasts a moment in his life, it will influence his life forever because it serves as a major eye-opener.

At the moment he encountered Mrs. Jones, Roger was about to embark on the destiny most street children embark upon, a life of crime. However, Mrs. Jones alters his life's direction by not taking him to the cops out of mercy and showing him compassion. She particularly shows him compassion when she informs him that she, too, has "done things" she would be too ashamed to tell Roger about or even God about. She further shows him compassion when she says that, when she was young, she too "wanted things [she] could not get." In saying these things to him, she opens Roger's eyes to show him he isn't really alone in the world--other people have been in the same boat he is in and have risen above their circumstances. Since he now knows others can rise above their circumstances, he won't fall into a life of crime; instead, he'll be strong, courageous, and find ways to develop a better life for himself.

In addition, Mrs. Jones hands him 10 dollars to buy shoes, probably the only money she has at the moment, saying that all he had needed to do was ask. More importantly, the money she gives him is to buy pretty, decorative shoes, not shoes out of necessity. Her generosity allowed him to see that there are people in the world who are compassionate enough to be able to see that peoples' wants can be just as important, sometimes even more important, than their needs; it allowed him to see what he has never seen before in his life--some people really do care.

In addition, her generosity allowed him to see that when he does have needs, all he has to do is ask for help. Since he now knows that he can ask for help, even for help fulfilling wants, not just needs, he won't fall into a life of crime in order to survive. He'll find other means of survival.

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