What literary devices are used in "Thank You, M'am"?

The literary devices in "Thank You, M'am" include hyperbole, imagery, repetition, and symbolism.

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Langston Hughes uses a variety of literary devices in “Thank You, Ma’am,” such as imagery, hyperbole, characterization, colloquial diction, and tone.

From the start, the reader is very comfortable with the character of Mrs. Jones. Hughes characterizes her as a tough woman who is unafraid to...

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Langston Hughes uses a variety of literary devices in “Thank You, Ma’am,” such as imagery, hyperbole, characterization, colloquial diction, and tone.

From the start, the reader is very comfortable with the character of Mrs. Jones. Hughes characterizes her as a tough woman who is unafraid to walk alone late at night. When the boy tries to steal her purse, she is further shown to be caring and compassionate. Instead of turning him in to the police, she takes him home, feeds him, and gives him money to buy the shoes he wants. Mrs. Jones is understanding and loving: she wants the boy to learn the right behavior, and she also can relate to his wanting something he cannot have.

Hughes further characterizes Mrs. Jones via the use of colloquial diction. She speaks to the boy in a firm tone but caring tone: “Ain’t you got nobody home to tell you to wash your face?...Maybe you ain’t been to your supper either.” The reader relates easily to the characters because of the comfortable, conversational tone. We do not need to stop and think about what is being said, because the conversation flows so easily that we understand it. We immediately like Mrs. Jones because she genuinely cares.

The author also utilizes hyperbole to characterize Mrs. Jones—her purse has everything in it “but hammer and nails.” Such hyperbole suggests that she is quite prepared for any situation. We can visualize her large purse and maybe even laugh because we know someone who also carries such a purse. Also, Mrs. Jones shakes the boy “until his teeth rattled.” Hughes exaggerates again here to tell us just how upset Mrs. Jones is with the boy, and also how the boy feels being shaken up by the person he just tried to rob.

Hughes’s use of imagery also helps the reader to visualize Mrs. Jones’s character. For instance, Hughes includes descriptions of her purse and how she carries it, how she fends off the boy’s attack and turns the tables on him, and how she drags him down the street and into her apartment building. These images help the reader to understand more about Mrs. Jones’ strong personality. She does not have much, but she will share what she has—and she will teach the boy a valuable lesson too.

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As the previous Educators has noted, Hughes uses a number of literary devices in this story. Another device not mentioned so far is symbolism.

Perhaps the most potent symbol in this story is the blue suede shoes which Roger wants to buy. The shoes become symbolic when we look at their meaning in the wider context of the story. Remember that Roger comes from a poor, deprived background. Blue suede shoes are not the kind of item that somebody like him would ever own.

Looking a little deeper, the blue suede shoes are not just a luxurious and fashionable item that any boy might like to own—they are also symbolic of the desperation caused by poverty. The fact that Roger would steal from a stranger for these shoes shows us as much. He is prepared to break the law and face the full force of Mrs. Jones’s anger just to own a pair of shoes.

Hughes is, therefore, using the shoes to suggest that poverty creates misery and desperation. It is particularly dangerous for young children, who might be driven to extreme behavior in order to try to live a better life.

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As the story opens, Mrs. Jones's purse is described (using hyperbole) as having "everything in it but hammer and nails." It is also hyperbolic to describe Mrs. Jones as shaking Roger "until his teeth rattled."

Hughes employs vivid imagery to describe how Mrs. Jones treats Roger after he falls to the ground: "she reached down, [and] picked the boy up by his shirt front." As she dragged him home, "sweat popped out on the boy’s face and he began to struggle."

Hughes uses vernacular diction to capture the way Roger and Mrs. Jones speak, such as when Roger answers Mrs. Jones with "yes'm" and "no'm" and when she tells him "I would not take you nowhere."

Hughes uses a lovely metaphor to describe Roger as "willow-wild," as he stands before Mrs. Jones in fear.

Hughes utilizes a literary archetype of the African American matriarch or strong black woman in developing the character of Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones. The matriarch is generally an aged character who offers wisdom gained through age and experience.  Since Mrs. Jones lives on her own, she could also be the powerful black woman, a fiercely independent, single, and fearless woman.

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Literary devices are the tools an author uses--such as foreshadowing, imagery, hyperbole, characterization, and metaphor, to name a few--that provide the reader with details and bring the text to life.

In "Thank You, M'am" Hughes expertly uses many literary devices to capture the encounter between Roger and Mrs. Jones.

To bring the characters immediately to life and engage us in the story, Hughes starts the story with a characterization and conflict. Woven together in the first paragraph of the story, these devices invite us quickly into the world of Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones.

"She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails. It had a long strap, and she carried it slung across her shoulder. It was about eleven o'clock at night, and she was walking alone..."

In these words Hughes provides a brief but effective characterization of Mrs. Jones as a powerful, imposing, and fearless figure. Right away the author moves on to create a conflict when Roger dares to try and steal Mrs. Jones' purse, a device that draws the reader in, engaging him or her with the characters.

Lastly, along with characterization and conflict in the first paragraph of the story, the author provides the reader with effective imagery. The scene in which Roger attempts to take Mrs. Jones' purse is so graphically described that the reader immediately paints a picture of the confrontation in his or her mind.

"The strap broke with the single tug that the boy gave it from behind. But the boy's weight and the weight of the purse combined caused him to lose his balance...the boy fell on his back on the sidewalk and his legs flew up."

Throughout the remainder of the story, Hughes effectively uses other literary devices that allow the reader to effectively experience Roger's encounter with Mrs. Jones.

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In the first paragraph of "Thank You, M'am," Langston Hughes uses hyperbole and auditory imagery to create a vivid picture of the encounter between Roger and Mrs. Jones. The purse Roger tries to snatch is described as having "everything in it but hammer and nails," conveying a sense of how large and well-filled it is. When Mrs. Jones picks Roger up, she shakes him until his "teeth rattled." Both these details suggest that Mrs. Jones is a formidable personality. The repetition of the word "large" to describe both Mrs. Jones and the room where she lives also conveys a sense of both her physical stature and her generosity.

The author also uses symbolism when describing Roger's dirty face. At first, the dirt on his face seems to represent his criminal nature, but Mrs. Jones asks him whether there is anyone at home to tell him to wash his face. When Roger says there is not, it becomes clear that he is neglected, and the dirt comes to symbolize lack of guidance, which Mrs. Jones decides to provide for him. The blue suede shoes Roger wants to buy are also a symbol, representing the rock-and-roll lifestyle to which he aspires but which is beyond his grasp.

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