Why might Mrs. Jones feel compelled to help Roger in "Thank You, M'am"?  

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones feels sorry for Roger because she sees him out alone late at night with his face dirty.  She understands that he is not a hardened criminal.  He is just a kid who made a bad choice and has no role models.

Mrs. Jones decides to be a role model for Roger.  When he asks her if she is going to turn him in, she says she won’t and tells him to wash his face.  She seems to feel sorry for him and want to offer him guidance.

He looked as if he were fourteen or fifteen, frail and willow-wild, in tennis shoes and blue jeans.

The woman said, “You ought to be my son. I would teach you right from wrong. Least I can do right now is to wash your face. Are you hungry?”

Mrs. Jones confides in Roger that she has made some choices she is not proud of.   She tells him she was young once too.  Her reflection helps bring Roger out of his shell.

“… You thought I was going to say, but I didn’t snatch people’s pocketbooks. Well, I wasn’t going to say that.” Pause. Silence. “I have done things, too, which I would not tell you, son—neither tell God, if he didn’t already know. …”

Roger asks Mrs. Jones if she needs anything from the store, but she declines.  They never get very close, even though it is clear that she has made an impression on him.  When he leaves, it seems that they are never going to see each other again.  Mrs. Jones said any contact with her would "last awhile," and she was right.  The impression she makes on Roger will be a long-standing one.

Mrs. Jones’s past is somewhat of a mystery to us, but it is clear that she has had some hardships.  Now she works for a beauty shop and seems to work late, since she was out so late at night.  She also appears to live alone in a boarding house, so we do not know where her husband is or if she ever had a son of her own.