What was Roger's motive when he snatched the purse?

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beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Langston Hughes short story “Thank You M’am,” Roger tells Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones his motive for attempting to steal her purse is to get money to purchase blue suede shoes. After thwarting his attempt, Mrs. Jones realizes his motive is far more than wanting new shoes, even if Roger is not aware of it. Mrs. Jones sees a young man in need of adult direction in his life. As she picks him up, she gives him a once over, and sees his dirty face and general dishevelment.

Instead of turning him in to the authorities, she decides to take him to her home. Mrs. Jones is astute enough to realize that it is less about blue suede shoes, and more about a young man in need of attention and direction. In their conversations, she addresses him as “son,” which is a term of endearment showing she cares about him.

“Then we’ll eat,” said the woman, “I believe you’re hungry—or been hungry—to try to snatch my

pockekbook.”

 “I wanted a pair of blue suede shoes,” said the boy.

 “Well, you didn’t have to snatch my pocketbook to get some suede shoes,” said Mrs. Luella Bates

Washington Jones. “You could of asked me.”

Through her actions and words, she teaches him about respect, kindness, and trust. Roger realizes that he wants to be trusted and demonstrates this. In the end, Mrs. Jones is convinced Roger deserves the shoes and gives him the money. In essence, his original motive is met, but in a very different way than Roger ever imagined.

When they were finished eating she got up and said, “Now, here, take this ten dollars and buy yourself some blue suede shoes. And next time, do not make the mistake of latching onto my pocketbook nor nobody else’s—because shoes come by devilish like that will burn your feet. I got to get my rest now. But I wish you would behave yourself, son, from here on in.”

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