What does Langston Hughes mean by his first sentence in "Thank You M'am?" The sentence is: "She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails."  

Expert Answers
beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Langston Hughes creates the image of a strong, no-nonsense woman, who is ready for anything with the first sentence of his short story “Thank You, M’am.” He says, "She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails."

In this story, the woman is mugged as she walks home from work late one evening. Her perpetrator is a young man who grew up on the streets of Harlem. He sees an opportunity to steal money when he notices a woman with a large purse walking alone at night. Little does he know, the purse is heavy enough to drag him to the ground, and she is a formidable opponent. When he grabs the purse, he is taken by surprise when it breaks free and its heaviness drags him to the ground. He falls at the woman’s feet. She is a woman who is familiar with life on the city streets, and she is prepared to address any problems head-on, as she does with the boy.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This first sentence is an example of hyperbole (an exaggerated statement) because it is impossible to carry around a bag so large that it contains all of your personal possessions. However, by using hyperbole in this manner, the author makes an important point about Mrs. Jones. Specifically, he indicates that she is a prepared and experienced woman. She is ready for any eventuality, and, no matter what trials and tribulations she encounters, she knows exactly how to handle them.

By characterizing Mrs. Jones in this way, the reader knows that she will not react in the expected way when the young boy tries to snatch her purse. She is not going to simply hand it over to him. This also foreshadows her kind reaction to Roger, in which she takes him to her home, feeds him, and gives him some money.