Roger is a petty thief. He’s a young boy without family or relatives. So it is clear that he doesn’t belong to mainstream society. Dignity, love, trust or human affection – all of these have been denied to him so far. His is a life no better than that of an animal, who wakes up to hunt for something to fill up his stomach and that’s all.
Roger was thankful for the way Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones treated him.
To Roger, Mrs. Jones was merely a target whose purse he wanted to snatch. But instead of taking him to the police station, she takes him to her home. She starts chiding him as a mother would her mischievous son. She gives him a fresh towel and asks him to wash himself clean. Then she cooks him something to eat and both of them eat together. She doesn’t ask any question about his personal life that would embarrass him. Instead she puts him at ease by touching upon her past life.
When she learns that he had attempted to run away with her bag to buy a pair of suede shoes, Mrs. Jones gives him ten dollars to buy those shoes. And before she sees him off, she warns him, like a mother, to not do anything that’s unethical.
Roger seems to be overwhelmed with a tremendous sense of gratitude. But he is unable to articulate his feelings and all that he could mutter was just “Thank you, ma’m.”
Ten dollars, food, comb and towel were not just the things he was thankful for. He was thankful for the motherly affection that Mrs Jones had treated him with. Nobody had ever scolded him for being so dirty and disheveled. In fact nobody had actually bothered about how he looked. He was thankful for she understood that he was hungry. He didn’t remember if anybody had ever asked him if he wanted to eat something. Roger was also thankful to her when she said, “You could have asked me” for money to buy shoes instead of attempting to snatch her purse. He knew he wasn’t her son or anybody so close to her that he had this natural right to assert his wish to her. He was deeply touched by the warmth of affection he experienced by this particular statement of hers. Last but not the least, he was thankful for she gave him ten dollars to buy shoes even though he didn’t ask for it.
To Mrs Jones, Roger was thankful for everything she said to him and everything she did for him. Most importantly, he was thankful to her for the way she did all these things - just like a mother, like someone to whom his well being really mattered.
The short story "Thank you M'am" shows how Mrs. Luella is able to impact Roger through the short time they spent together. At the beginning of the story Roger has the intent of stealing from Mrs. Luella. However, Mrs. Luella easily spots him and stops him. Instead of calling the cops or telling his parents Mrs. Luella instead invites him to have dinner with her. Throughout their interactions Mrs. Luella bestows expectations upon Roger and expresses her disappointment that he would act this way despite not knowing him. Mrs. Luella's expectations make Roger feel ashamed for his actions and at the end of the story he thanks her for showing him how he should act.