Last Updated on March 3, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 850
Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones
Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones is the first character introduced in the story. Her self-confidence is clear from the beginning: she walks alone at nearly midnight and doesn’t flinch when a young boy attempts to rob her. When he finds himself on the ground, Mrs. Jones kicks him in his “blue-jeaned sitter” and then grabs him by his shirt and shakes him. Mrs. Jones will not be intimidated.
Mrs. Jones presses Roger to explain the reasoning behind the attempted robbery, and he reluctantly confesses that he doesn't have anyone at home. This triggers a maternal response in Mrs. Jones, and she drags Roger behind her all the way to her house, telling him, “You ought to be my son. I would teach you right from wrong.”
Still angry about being attacked, Mrs. Jones is intent on making a lasting impression on this young boy. She doles out wisdom through stern statements and by forcing Roger to admit his wrongdoings.
Inside her home, she presents Roger with a choice by leaving the door open. This is the first opportunity she provides for the boy to show her the respect she deserves; as she releases him from her grip, she instructs him on where he should go to wash his dirty face. Roger looks at the open door, realizing the decision before him. Mrs. Jones provides this opportunity to allow Roger to see the freedom of choice in his life. Even in this small act, he can choose to comply with what is right or to flee in disobedience.
Armed with a new sense of responsibility, Roger chooses to wash up. This changes the dynamic of their interaction because he is now the guest of Mrs. Jones. When she discovers that Roger has not eaten, she immediately offers him a meal. Yet she also presses him to admit why he tried to steal her purse. When he admits that he wanted some blue suede shoes, Mrs. Jones helps him to see another choice he missed in the situation: he could have simply asked her for the money instead of trying to steal it from her.
Wanting to avoid appearing sanctimonious, Mrs. Jones tells Roger that she isn’t perfect, either: “I have done things, too, which I would not tell you, son—neither tell God, if he didn’t already know.” After this confession, Mrs. Jones begins preparing their meal, and she doesn’t keep an eye on Roger. Neither does she keep a close eye on her purse. Through her actions, she wants Roger to believe that he is trustworthy.
As they share a meal, Mrs. Jones keeps the conversation centered on herself so that Roger does not have to answer any further questions about his difficult background. She keeps the conversation light and even offers him dessert.
In the end, Mrs. Jones graciously extends to Roger the money he had tried to steal from her so that he can purchase the blue suede shoes. Through this act of kindness, Mrs. Jones is conveying important truths to Roger. She believes he is worth the personal sacrifice she has made for him, and she has faith that he will make better choices from this point forward.
Roger is a young teenage boy, described as being “frail and willow-wild.” He comes from difficult circumstances, telling Mrs. Jones twice that there is no one at his house. His face is dirty, he hasn't eaten, and he has resorted to theft in order to buy a pair of blue suede shoes. Roger misjudges Mrs. Jones, likely believing her an easy target, but he finds himself firmly in her grasp as a result of this inadequate judgment. There is a part of Roger that desires this older woman’s guidance, for he allows her to drag him back to her house without a struggle. He submits to her authority, which shows early on that there is hope for Roger. When he realizes that she has left the door open, he is presented with a choice: he can take the path of responsibility or the path toward deviance. Roger’s choice to stay and wash up as instructed shows his willingness to recognize the fault in his own poor choices.
Ultimately, Roger craves Mrs. Jones’s respect and trust, as he has likely received little of either in his life thus far. He intentionally sits where she can plainly see him, not wanting her to worry about the purse, which she has chosen not to hide from him.
In order to further demonstrate his newfound sense of responsibility, Roger offers to go to the store for Mrs. Jones. As they share a meal, he remains quiet about his own background, likely because the tension would ruin the warm setting that Mrs. Jones has created through shared food and light conversation.
Although Roger never returns to see Mrs. Jones, his transformation during their time together indicates that he is now on a path toward personal responsibility and will make improved choices as a result of the trust Mrs. Jones has extended to him.
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