What is the tone of "Thank You, Ma'am?"

Expert Answers
litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The tone of this story is humorous, ironic, hopeful, and optimistic at different times.

Tone is the author’s attitude toward the subject.  You are looking at the words that are used in the story and the emotion behind those words.  Take a look at this excerpt.

[Instead] of taking off full blast as he had hoped, the boy fell on his back on the sidewalk, and his legs flew up. The large woman simply turned around and kicked him right square in his blue-jeaned sitter.

Part of the tone hear is humorous, because we know that although the boy fell down and the woman attacked him, and technically a crime is being committed here, no one is seriously hurt.  The language tells us that this is not a scary event.  The boy is not dangerous and neither is the woman.  If anything, the author is amused. 

There is also an ironic tone to this story.  In most stories of purse-snatchings, the hoodlum snatches the innocent and helpless lady’s purse and runs off.  In this situation, that is not what happens at all.  The lady fights back.  However, she is not calling the police.  Instead, she takes him home with her.  This is unexpected.

“Um-hum! And your face is dirty. I got a great mind to wash your face for you. Ain’t you got nobody home to tell you to wash your face?”

 “No’m,” said the boy.

“Then it will get washed this evening,” said the large woman starting up the street, dragging the frightened boy behind her.

This leads me to a final tone for the story, for the part where Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones takes Roger home and fixes him food.  She tells him about her life, and gives him some mothering.  This part could be described as hopeful, giving us some hope for human nature perhaps, or optimistic.  It’s a beautiful story of a woman trying to help a neighborhood boy turn his life around.

As the old saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child.  This story demonstrates a twist on a familiar story, and it is believable partly because of the carefully crafted language.  The author’s tone helps us feel the characters’ presence and understand and believe in the optimism of their change.