What are the main themes in Langston Hughes' "Thank You, M’am?"

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Vikash Lata eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Above all, the story is about the power that love and trust can wield. A misguided young boy, who has taken to theft and robbery, undergoes a drastic change during his brief interaction with the affectionate lady, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones.

Roger is taken aback by the way Mrs. Jones treats him. At one time, he must have thought that Mrs. Jones would hand him over to the police. Instead, she takes him to her home. With motherly affection, she scolds him and asks him to wash his face. He is quite surprised when Mrs. Jones offers him her own towel and comb to make himself presentable. After that, they have dinner together, and at last, she gifts him ten dollars to buy himself a pair of suede shoes.

We notice the change in Roger. There were moments when he could have easily escaped from Mrs. Jones’ home, even with her purse. But the trust that she has shown in him has quashed his desire to rob the “large woman.” Now, he wants to live up to her trust. Besides, he feels a sense of dignity when she shares her experience and thoughts with him at the dining table.

Moreover, the power of forgiveness is another important theme in the story. Instead of forgiving him, had Mrs. Jones handed him over to the police, he could have possibly turned into a hardened criminal. He might have harbored a grudge against her with a desire to avenge himself. But, the act of forgiveness has changed him, so that we start hoping that he will no longer steal or rob anybody else in the future.

In this way, we see that the themes of love, trust, forgiveness and respect weave through this story by Langston Hughes.

Apart from these, the story also reflects the contemporary social and economic problems affecting the likes of Mrs. Jones and Roger. We see Mrs. Jones, a self-dependent woman, working throughout the day and returning late at night to earn a livelihood. On the other hand, the society has members like Roger, who are deprived of proper parenting and education. To make a living, they often adopt illegal ways. 

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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To me, the theme of this story is that people can be transformed by love and trust more than they can be transformed by fear and punishment.

In the story, Roger is a thief.  But when he meets up with Mrs. Jones, his life is changed because she catches him.

But she does not call the police or tell his parents or anything.  Instead, she treats him well and shows that she trusts him.

This works, in my opinion, because people often behave the way they are expected to behave.  That is the theme of the story in my opinion -- the idea that if you trust someone and treat them well, you can change their life.

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