In Thank You M'am by Langston Hughes, why does Roger want money?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Thank You M'am by Langston Hughes, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones is startled when a young boy, who she comes to know only as Roger, tries to steal her purse or "pocketbook." However, rather than being judgmental of the boy, she recognizes his situation and can empathize with him. She can see that he is most likely neglected even to the point of feeling responsible for helping him wash his face. Roger does not trust her at first and believes he should run at the first opportunity, before she hands him over to the police. Roger is confused by Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones's behavior because it would seem that most of the people he comes into contact with would not be so understanding. Mrs. Jones, however, even recalls that "I were young once and I wanted things I could not get." She is quick to tell Roger that she has also done things that she shouldn't have, indicating that she intends to give him a second chance. 

After some prompting by Mrs. Jones and her expectation that perhaps it is hunger that made him try to steal her purse, the boy tells her why he wanted to take her purse and admits that it was so he would have enough money to buy some blue suede shoes. Mrs. Jones suggests that he could have asked her, a comment that confuses Roger who obviously could not ask a complete stranger to give him money for blue suede shoes. Now that they have an understanding, Mrs. Jones is happy to give him some money to buy his precious shoes, and in return, she asks that he behaves himself. Roger realizes that his thanks is insufficient but cannot think of anything to say to express his gratitude before she shuts the door.