Thank You, M'am Summary

In "Thank You, M'am," a young boy attempts to steal from an elderly woman. Instead of calling the police, the woman invites him into her house and tells him to wash his face. He reveals that he wants to buy a pair of blue suede shoes. She gives him the money, then sends him on his way.

  • One night, Roger snatches the purse of Mrs. Luella Bates Washington, an elderly African American woman walking home alone. He trips, however, and she kicks him.

  • She leaves her front door open so that he can come in and wash his face if he wants. She then heats up some food for them and asks him why he tried to steal from her.

  • He tells her that he wants to buy a pair of blue suede shoes. She graciously gives him the money, and he struggles to say thank you before she closes the door in his face.

Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)
Thank You, M'am cover image

It is eleven o’clock at night as a large woman carrying a large purse slung over her shoulder walks down a deserted city street. Suddenly a boy dashes behind her and with one tug jerks the purse from her. Its weight throws him off balance and he falls, legs flying up. The woman calmly kicks him.

Pulling the boy up by his shirt and shaking him, the large woman demands that he return her pocketbook. When she asks if he is ashamed, the boy finally speaks. He answers yes and also denies that he meant to snatch the purse. Not deceived, the woman tells him that he lies, discovers that he has no one at home, and drags him off. Frightened, the boy begs to be released, but the woman simply announces her name: Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones. The now sweating boy struggles desperately but finds the woman’s half nelson difficult to resist.

As they enter her furnished room, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones leaves the door open. She asks the boy’s name; he replies that it is Roger. Calling him by name, she tells him to wash his face, then turns him loose—at last. Roger looks at the open door and looks at the large woman; he chooses to wash.

When the woman asks if he took her money because of hunger, the boy replies that he wanted blue suede shoes. The woman only says that she has done things that she would tell no one. Then, leaving him alone by her purse and the open door, she steps behind a screen to warm lima beans and ham on her gas plate. The boy does not run; he does not want to be mistrusted.

While they eat, the woman asks no questions but talks of her work on the late shift at a hotel beauty shop. After they share her small cake, she gives the boy ten dollars for some blue suede shoes and asks him to leave because she needs her rest.

Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones leads Roger to the barren stoop and says that she hopes he behaves himself. He barely manages to say thank you before the large woman shuts the door. He never sees her again.