What theme about kindness and trust is communicated in the story "Thank You, M'am"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Langston Hughes seems to be transmitting the thematic message that kindness and trust often make profoundly positive impacts upon those who commit misdeeds that are much more effective than punitive measures.

This thematic message is implied in the words of the victim of an attempted theft who tells the miscreant, 

”When I get through with you, sir, you are going to remember Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones."

When the boy tries to steal her purse, Mrs. Jones retrieves it because it is so heavy that when her shoulder strap breaks, and the thief is thrown backwards, she issues a strong kick to his backside and grabs him. She asks him why he has wanted to steal her purse. When the boy lies that he has not "aimed to," Mrs. Jones calls him a liar, but also notices that his face is dirty and he is apparently not cared for by a mother. So, because she is essentially good-hearted, she tells him she is taking him home with her. There, she fixes a meal for the boy and speaks to him without condescension, even confessing that she, too, has done bad things.

“I were young once and I wanted things I could not get.” ....The boy’s mouth opened. Then he frowned, but not knowing he frowned. The woman said, “Um-hum! You thought I was going to say 'but,' didn’t you? You thought I was going to say, 'but I didn’t snatch people’s pocketbooks.'" 

Further, the kind woman tells Roger that she would have given him money for the shoes he desires if he had only asked her. And, before Roger leaves, Mrs. Jones does give him ten dollars. Because of these kindnesses and her concern for Roger as a person, Mrs. Jones has a profound influence upon Roger's conscience. He is so moved that he barely manages to say "Thank you, ma'am" before her door closes on him. 

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