In what ways does Langston Hughes's short story "Thank You, M'am" relate to his life?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While Langston Hughes never grew up surviving on the streets the way Roger seems to in Hughes's short story "Thank You, M'am," Hughes certainly did have experiences with parental neglect and poverty. The battle with racial prejudices was a huge contributing factor to Hughes's parental neglect.

Hughes spent much of his childhood under the care of his maternal grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas. Hughes had been born to his parents, Carrie Mercer Langston and James Nathaniel Hughes, in Joplin, Missouri, but his parents soon separated. Hughes's father moved to Mexico, where he could practice law freely, without the constraints of racial prejudices, while his mother roamed looking for work, leaving Hughes to the care of his grandmother. Because Hughes's father left the US to escape prejudices while his mother struggled to find work due to prejudices, we can say that Hughes suffered from parental neglect, and racism was largely to blame.

Similarly, in his short story, Roger suffers from parental neglect. We learn he is neglected when Mrs. Jones asks him, "Ain't you got nobody home to tell you to wash your face?" to which Roger replies, "No'm." We further see his neglect when Mrs. Jones asks him if he has been home to have dinner, and he replies, "There's nobody home at my house." Though skin color is never mentioned in the story, we can tell from the characters' dialect that they are African American characters struggling with the poverty and neglect that are frequent consequences of racism, just as Hughes struggled with poverty and neglect in his childhood due to racism.

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Thank You, M'am

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