How does the style influence the conclusion of "Thank You Ma'am"?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The style of “Thank You M’am” is minimalist, with use of dialect and symbolism to allow the characters to speak for themselves.  The ending of the story is the same way—simple, direct, and thought-provoking.

Hughes creates two perfectly drawn characters in this brief story.  He pulls us into the world they are living in through the use of dialect, straightforward narration, and dialogue.

One example of the simple, straightforward narration is the first sentence.

 She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails.

From this one sentence, the reader is already picturing the woman and what might happen to her.  When we learn her name, it is “Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones.”  The name is long, descriptive, and helps us picture her. The boy, Roger, is also described with as much personality.

He looked as if he were fourteen or fifteen, frail and willow-wild, in tennis shoes and blue jeans.

When she asks him if he is going to run, he says, “yes.”  When he says he wasn’t trying to steal her purse, she tells him he’s lying.

At this point in the story, we know both of the characters.  Hughes lets them tell their story, using dialect (a special way of speaking peculiar to a region) and dialogue (conversation between characters).

 After that the woman said, "Pick up my pocketbook, boy, and give it here." She still held him. But she bent down enough to permit him to stoop and pick up her purse. Then she said, "Now ain’t you ashamed of yourself?"

We feel like we are there with the characters as they talk to each other, and share non-verbal communication, such as when Roger goes to the sink instead of running, and makes sure she can see him.  Each influences the other in a way that will likely be lasting.  In fact, Mrs. Jones tells Roger, "But you put yourself in contact with me … [if] you think that that contact is not going to last awhile, you got another though coming.”

Hughes uses the symbolism of the woman’s purse, the simple dinner, and the boy’s shoes, to demonstrate that they are not so far apart after all.

The ending of the story continues in this style, by ending as abruptly as it began.  She closes the door, and Roger “barely managed to say "Thank you" before she shut the door.”  Hughes uses this moment in the title, to demonstrate the influence this short incident had on Roger.  He may have never seen her again, but he will certainly never forget her.

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