Why did Roger try to steal Mrs. Jones's purse in "Thank You, M'am" by Langston Hughes?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Roger, the protagonist of "Thank You, M'am" by Langston Hughes, is a teenage boy who tries to steal a woman's purse but picks the wrong woman if he wanted an easy mark. Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones is an imposing African American woman who, when she feels Roger pulling on her purse, tosses him to the ground. 

When she looks more closely at the boy, she notices that he looks decidedly dirty and unkempt, as if he has not been taking care of himself or has had no one taking care of him. She feels some sympathy for the boy, but she does not turn soft. She tells him that, since he is the one who interfered with her plans, he must not be so quick to leave. She takes him home and begins to make some dinner. She says,

“I believe you’re hungry—or been hungry—to try to snatch my pocketbook.”
“I wanted a pair of blue suede shoes,” said the boy.

He was not, as she assumed, trying to steal her purse to get money to eat; he wanted money to buy blue suede shoes. Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones eventually gives the boy ten dollars for the shoes, as she was once someone who also "wanted things [she]could not get." It seems Roger actually picked the right woman from whom to steal a purse.

gvansaru | Student

Roger tried to steal Mrs Jones's purse because he wanted to buy a pair of blue suede shoes.