What is the conflict in "Thank You, M'am"?  

The main external conflict is considered the Man versus Man (or Woman) conflict that is seen between Roger and Mrs. Jones when he attempts to steal her purse and she defends herself. Another external conflict is a Man versus Society conflict, which involves Roger's struggle to survive in an economically disadvantaged community. The primary internal conflict is Roger's struggle to decide whether or not to flee Mrs. Jones's home.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Roger places himself in direct physical conflict with Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones when he tries to mug her. Unfortunately for him, Mrs. Jones is not a woman who is easily taken advantage of, and she uses this conflict as an opportunity to offer Roger some guidance in how he should treat people.

After dragging Roger to her house (which, it should be noted, he ultimately allows her to do), Mrs. Jones doesn't foster the conflict. Instead, she offers him a place to clean up, and after learning that he doesn't have anyone at home, she feeds the same boy who tried to rob her, even offering to give him money to run to the store if he needs something else for their dinner.

The larger conflict and the one which propelled the conflict between Roger and Mrs. Jones initially is the conflict between Roger and his society. He lives on the fringes, largely invisible, unloved, and without respect. He isn't yet hardened by this environment, as evidenced by the respect which he offers Mrs. Jones. Roger doesn't have anyone at home to remind him to wash his face, let alone anyone who can help him earn the money he needs to purchase the shoes he wants. Without guidance, Roger tries to create his own fortune by stealing from someone else. Mrs. Jones shows Roger another way to deal with this conflict. She tells him that he could have just asked her for the money, which Roger undoubtedly never considered. She's also shown him the very real humanity behind his floundering efforts toward crime, and hopefully this encounter changes Roger into a man who deals with the conflicts of his society in more productive ways.

Last Reviewed by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The primary external conflict in Langston Hughes's celebrated short story "Thank You, M'am" is considered a Man vs. Man (/Woman) conflict between Roger and Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones. At the beginning of the story, Roger attempts to steal Mrs. Jones's purse in order to buy a pair of blue suede shoes he cannot afford. When Roger grabs her purse, he stumbles and Mrs. Jones immediately grabs him by the collar. Roger is the perpetrator in this scenario and Mrs. Jones is quick to defend herself. Rather than call the police, Mrs. Jones drags Roger back to her home, where she feeds him and graciously gives Roger ten dollars to buy a pair of shoes.

A secondary external conflict is considered a Man vs. Society conflict, which involves Roger's struggle to survive in an economically depressed community. As a poor, black adolescent, Roger is at a disadvantage and considered an outcast in a society that favors privileged white citizens. Roger feels as though he must resort to crime in order to attain the things he desires.

The primary internal conflict is considered a Man vs. Self conflict, which concerns Roger's struggle to decide whether or not he should stay in Mrs. Jones's home or run out the door. Once Roger enters Mrs. Jones's home, he becomes wary and tries to read the situation. Eventually, Roger recognizes that Mrs. Jones has no intention of reporting him to the authorities and decides to stay. Roger also tries to earn Mrs. Jones's trust and is incredibly grateful for everything she does for him.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In a literary work there is usually a conflict between two opposing forces. In general, there are four types of conflict: person vs. person, person vs. society, person vs. self and person vs. nature. In Langston Hughes short story "Thank You M'am" three of these types are included. First, there is a person vs. person conflict between young Roger and Mrs. Louella Bates Washington Jones when the boy attempts to steal the lady's purse, but is thwarted when she kicks him in the seat of his pants and grabs him. She then scolds him and says she will wash his face. Rather than turn him in to the police, she actually takes him home and gives him dinner. In her apartment Roger also experiences a conflict within himself. On one hand he wants to get away, but on the other he wants her trust him because she has treated him decently:

The woman did not watch the boy to see if he was going to run now, nor did she watch her purse which she left behind her on the daybed. But the boy took care to sit on the far side of the room where he thought she could easily see him out of the corner of her eye, if she wanted to. He did not trust the woman not to trust him. And he did not want to be mistrusted now.

Finally, while never explicitly stated, there is a conflict with society. Roger and Mrs. Jones live in a poor neighborhood where young boys such as Roger are allowed to roam the streets and have little to look forward to at home. Roger readily admits that, even though it is dinner time, there is nobody home at his house. In spite of this poverty, Mrs. Jones retains her dignity and looks to pass on her morality and self-respect to Roger who is obviously neglected by his parents. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are several different conflicts present in this story. The first and most pronounced is the human v. human conflict between Ms. Washington and Roger. He tries to steal her purse and she drags him home to feed him. Roger is worried throughout the story if she is going to hurt him!

Also there is human v. self in the sense that Roger struggles with the decision of whether to stay in the small apartment or make a run for it. Also, Ms. Washington is also struggling to come to terms with her own past--she too was a troublemaker when she was Roger's age.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial