Thank You, M'am Summary

"Thank You, M'am" is a short story by Langston Hughes in which a young boy attempts to steal from an elderly woman in order to buy shoes.

  • Roger tries to steal the purse of Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, an elderly Black woman, as she walks home. However, Roger's attempt is thwarted when he trips and falls.

  • The woman leaves her door open so that Roger can come inside. She gives him food 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.

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones is walking alone one night around eleven o’clock when a boy runs up behind her and tries to steal her purse. The boy, Roger, is seemingly around fourteen or fifteen years old. He has seriously misjudged his intended victim and soon finds himself on his back, looking up at Mrs. Jones. After kicking the boy “right square in his blue-jeaned sitter,” Mrs. Jones scolds him for his actions.

Grabbing hold of the boy’s shirt, Mrs. Jones shakes him and asks whether he’s ashamed of himself. The boy confesses his shame, and Mrs. Jones asks why he tried to mug her. Roger replies that he didn’t intend to do so, and Mrs. Jones calls him a liar. Convinced that Roger will run if she releases him, Mrs. Jones maintains her grip on his clothing.

Roger whispers that he is sorry, and Mrs. Jones points out that the boy’s face is dirty. She pointedly asks whether he has someone at home to remind him to clean himself, and Roger replies that he does not.

Dragging a frightened Roger behind her, Mrs. Jones insists that he will be cleaned up this evening. She mentions that if he were her son, she would teach him “right from wrong” and then asks whether he is hungry. Roger replies that he simply wants her to release him from her grip. With conviction, the older woman maintains that Roger will remember her when this night ends.

This statement increases Roger’s anxiety, and he struggles against the older woman. Undeterred, she places him in a headlock and continues to drag the boy home with her. When they enter, she immediately instructs Roger to walk to the sink and wash his face. She offers him a clean towel and asks whether he has had supper yet.

Roger again discloses that there is no one at his house to care for him. Mrs. Jones suggests that Roger’s hunger might have caused him to try to steal her purse. Instead, Roger reveals that he wants her money to purchase blue suede shoes.

Mrs. Jones shocks Roger when she points out that he could have asked her for the money instead of trying to steal from her. She also mentions that she remembers being young and wanting things that she could not afford. When Roger’s face reflects his surprise at such an admission, Mrs. Jones adds that she has “done things, too,” which she wouldn’t even “tell God, if he didn’t already know.” She concludes by asking him to comb his hair to look presentable.

As she prepares supper, Roger notices that Mrs. Jones has left her purse in full view and is not watching to ensure he is not stealing from her. Roger intentionally places himself where she can keep an eye on him if she chooses to do so. He does not want to break her trust. Instead, he asks whether Mrs. Jones needs him to run to the store and get some milk for their meal.

As they eat a meal of lima beans and ham, Mrs. Jones avoids asking Roger any personal questions. Instead, she talks about her job at a hotel beauty shop. After their meal, Mrs. Jones offers Roger ten dollars and instructs him to purchase those blue suede shoes. Additionally, she demands that he not attempt to steal from anyone else.

Roger wants to say something other than “thank you, m’am” as he leaves but finds himself unable to do so. Mrs. Jones quickly closes her door, and he never sees her again.

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