What does Roger do when Mrs. Jones leaves him alone with her purse? Why does he do this? How have Roger's behavior and attitude changed?  

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beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Langston Hughes short story “Thank you, M’am,” Roger’s attitude changes from that of a petty thief to a young man who desires to demonstrate his trustworthiness and gratitude.

After Mrs. Jones decides not to contact the authorities, she drags him back to her room in the boarding house. With her immediate actions, she shows Roger an inkling of trust. When they arrive back in the room, she places her purse on the day-bed in plain sight and instructs Roger to wash up. It is his choice whether he grabs the purse and runs out the door, or whether he stays with Mrs. Jones. He decides to stay, and when he returns from the sink, he sits as far away from the purse as possible. Mrs. Jones and Roger have a conversation in which she reveals some details about her past, which Roger can relate to in his current situation as a young man growing up in the slums of New York City. His family life is non-existent, he is poor, and he wants new, blue suede shoes.

After this conversation, Roger realizes he wants to be trusted. He sees his mistake in attacking Mrs. Jones, who is making out a living by working long hours in a local beauty salon. Roger sees the value in her hard work and determination, and he is grateful for her kindness.

In another corner of the room behind a screen was a gas plate and an icebox. Mrs. Jones got up and went behind the screen. 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 day-bed. 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.

Mrs. Jones' kindness and respect, her lack of preaching, and her demonstration of understanding help Roger change from a child of desperation to a grateful young man.