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The story is set in a poor neighbourhood in an American city. As the action opens, Roger, a thin teenage boy, tries to steal the bag of Mrs. Jones, but fails. Mrs. Jones drags Roger to her house, talking to him all the while and not giving him an opportunity to get away. Once inside the house, she lets him wash himself, gives him a good meal and talks to him about his actions and what he did. Then, when Roger tells her that he was trying to rob her so that he cold get some money for some "blue suede shoes," she gives him some money and tells him to buy some for him, sending him on his way before he is able to say "thank you" for her kindness.
It is clear if you look at the conversation carefully that Roger is a very poor child from a neglected household. He is described as "frail and willow-wild" and he himself says that there is nobody at his "home" to care for him and look after him. Thus the act of Mrs. Jones is one of incredible kindness and understanding. She empathises with Roger and his position, saying, "I was young once and I wanted things I could not get," and yet also shows tremendous sensitivity to Roger's position:
The woman did not ask the boy anything about where he lived, or his folks, or anything else that would embarrass him. Instead, as they ate, she told him about her job in a hotel beauty shop that stayed open late...
Her act of self-less generosity in looking after Roger and teaching him a valuable life-lesson rather than taking him to jail as so many others would have done, challenges us in terms of how we deal with those less fortunate than ourselves, and also ensures that we, like Roger, will never forget the character of "Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones."
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