Why does Roger lose his balance when he tries to steal Mrs. Jones's purse in "Thank You, M'am"?

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estoverl eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Author Langston Hughes introduced many symbolic elements into the story "Thank You M'am" and the purse is one of those elements. In short, simple terms, Roger loses his balance because the purse strap breaks as he tries to snatch it off Mrs. Jones' shoulder and he ends up falling backwards onto the sidewalk. As described by the author, the purse is heavy because it has so many things in it. In addition, Mrs. Jones is described as a stout woman who would not have budged as the purse was yanked from her shoulder. The strap gave way sending the combined weight of the purse and the boy tumbling backward onto the sidewalk together. Symbolically, this event and the fact that her purse was so heavy that it caused Roger to fail in his theft attempt, has been connected to the character of Mrs. Jones who knows right from wrong and despite her circumstances, not only lives by a moral code but attempts to share that moral code with Roger. One could also say then that Roger lost his balance and fell due to an author's symbolic gesture, the fall, which kept Roger from succeeding so that he could enter Mrs. Jones' world and be influenced by her as part of the story.