Why does Roger want money in "Thank You, M'am" by Langston Hughes?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A fifteen-year-old boy named Roger is one of the main characters in "Thank You, M'am" by Langston Hughes, and in the opening paragraph of the story he makes a very costly mistake: he tries to snatch the purse belonging to Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones. 

He tries to jerk the purse off her arm but is caught off balance and ends up on the ground--where he is promptly and smartly kicked by an imposing African American woman named Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones. The name suits her. When Roger tries to walk away, she does not allow him to leave. 

"[Y]ou put yourself in contact with me,” said the woman. “If you think that that contact is not going to last awhile, you got another thought coming. When I get through with you, sir, you are going to remember Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones.”

The woman notices that Roger is not very clean and deduces that no one has really been watching after the boy, or at least has not been doing a very good job of it. She takes him home with her and begins to prepare a meal, assuming that the reason he tried to steal her purse is because he is hungry and needs money to eat. She is mistaken.

“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 wanted ten dollars to buy blue suede shoes. In the end,the no-nonsense Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones gives Roger ten dollars because she says she, too, was "young once and I wanted things I could not get."

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