Compare and contrast Roger and Mrs. Jones in "Thank You, M'am".

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In "Thank You, M'am," Roger and Mrs. Jones are both African Americans living in the inner city. Both characters have experienced poverty and made desperate, impulsive decisions. Roger and Mrs. Jones are also risk-taking individuals who attempt to take control of various situations. Roger is a careless adolescent who initially lacks respect for laws and people. In contrast, Mrs. Jones is an understanding, benevolent woman who exercises compassion and respect for others.

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In the story, Roger is much younger than Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones and lacks a support system, which is why he is dirty, unfed, and desperate enough to try to steal Mrs. Jones's purse. Roger is also naïve and reckless. As a fifteen-year-old boy, Roger believes that the easiest way to buy a pair of blue suede shoes is to rob a random woman walking down the street. Roger lacks foresight, is not concerned about his future, and is simply trying to satisfy his desires. He is also selfish and does not consider how his actions affect others.

Mrs. Jones is much older and wiser than Roger. She also has more stability in her life and works to acquire her money. Unlike Roger, Mrs. Jones is selfless and has the ability to view situations from another person's perspective. Mrs. Jones is also more understanding than Roger and recognizes that he needs support and charity. Unlike Roger, Mrs. Jones recognizes the importance of giving instead of taking and invites him to her home.

Although Roger and Mrs. Jones are dramatically different, they share some similar attributes. Both Mrs. Jones and Roger are the same race, live in the inner city, and come from unstable homes. They both have done illegal things in their lives and made reckless decisions before. Mrs. Jones and Roger are both courageous individuals who are not afraid of conflict: Roger tries to rob a random woman, and Mrs. Jones immediately grabs her attacker. They also value comfort, stability, and security. Roger feels safe inside of Mrs. Jones's home and stays for dinner instead of running out the front door. Mrs. Jones and Roger also show concern for others. Mrs. Jones demonstrates sympathy by taking Roger home, and Roger tries to be helpful by asking to go to the store for her.

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In Langston Hughes's celebrated short story "Thank You, M'am," a desperate teenage boy named Roger attempts to steal Mrs. Jones's purse but fails. After narrowly avoiding having her purse stolen, Mrs. Jones demonstrates compassion and hospitality by inviting Roger home and offering him a hearty meal.

Although both characters differ in age, personality, and experience, Roger and Mrs. Jones share several similar characteristics. For example, both characters are African Americans living in the inner city. Roger and Mrs. Jones also come from similar backgrounds and know what it is like to experience poverty. Roger and Mrs. Jones have also done things they regret and acted impetuously out of desperation. Mrs. Jones even tells Roger,

I have done things, too, which I would not tell you, son—neither tell God, if he didn’t already know (Hughes, 4).
Both characters are also willing to act independently by taking control of their situations. Roger attempts to solve his issue by stealing Mrs. Jones's purse, while Mrs. Jones refuses to inform the authorities or let Roger go. Roger and Mrs. Jones also value compassion and respect. Mrs. Jones demonstrates her compassion by showing Roger mercy, and Roger repays the favor by proving that he is trustworthy and respectful.
Despite their several similarities, Roger and Mrs. Jones dramatically differ in age and experience. Roger is depicted as an imprudent teenager who disregards the law by attempting to steal Mrs. Jones's purse. In contrast, Mrs. Jones is significantly older and has respect for the law. She recognizes that laws are meant to be followed and understands the negatives attached to breaking those laws.

Initially, Roger lacks respect for others, and his actions prove that he does not exercise sympathy. In contrast, Mrs. Jones displays compassion by forgiving Roger and offering him food and comfort. Also, Roger lacks stability and a comfortable home, which are things that Mrs. Jones has worked hard to attain.

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Both Mrs. Jones and Roger are denizens of Harlem and, as such, have shared some of the same experiences. However, Mrs. Jones is an adult who has profited from her experiences and is now wiser than the young Roger.

After she resists his attempts to steal her purse and captures him, Mrs. Jones tells Roger to pick up her purse, then asks him, “Now ain’t you ashamed of yourself?" He replies that he is, although it may be out of fear that he answers. Nevertheless, from his next responses to Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones it becomes apparent that Roger learns to respect this woman. Then, after she takes him home and feeds him, Roger certainly acquires gratitude for her kindness to him.

Here, then, are some comparisons and contrasts between the two characters:

--Comparisons

  • Both are from the inner city and have not lived a comfortable, stable life.
  • Both have done things that are illegal.

“I have done things, too, which I would not tell you, son—neither tell God, if he didn’t already know," Mrs. Jones reveals to Roger.

  • Both have learned respect for others. Mrs. Jones tells Roger, “You ought to be my son. I would teach you right from wrong."
    Only later on does Roger speak very respectfully, and he makes sure that she knows he is not looking at her purse nor is he near it.
  • Both demonstrate concern for the welfare of others. Mrs. Jones takes Roger home; Roger tries to be helpful.

--Contrasts

  • Mrs. Jones is a trustworthy, hard-working, and compassionate woman. However, Roger has no consideration for her when he tries to steal her purse; instead, he merely pursues his selfish desire for a pair of shoes. Whereas Mrs. Jones no longer believes in breaking the law, Roger defies it.
  • Early in the narrative, Mrs. Jones treats Roger kindly, offering to take him home and wash his face [which implies more than is said]. On the other hand, Roger selfishly preys on her, and after he is stopped, he simply wants to get away.
  • Mrs. Jones displays a respect for Roger as a person early on; later, she offers to feed him and directs him to wash his face and clean up before eating while he is in her rooms. Roger's respect is merely given out of fear at first. But, after learning to respect Mrs. Jones, he is concerned about her, offering to run errands:

“Do you need somebody to go to the store,” asked the boy, “maybe to get some milk or something?"

Also, Roger even thanks her as he departs.

  • Roger only learns from his experience with Mrs. Jones to respect people; Mrs. Jones already displays sympathy for others.
  • Where she lives, Mrs. Jones has people with whom she can interact. Alone at home at night, Roger is deprived of parental attention and guidance.
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What is interesting about the physical contrast of Mrs. Jones and Roger in the story "Thank You, M'am"?

It is interesting that Mrs. Jones is physically larger and stronger than Roger because she "turns the tables" on Roger and because she is also figuratively a bigger person, being morally stronger.

"Thank you, M'am" by Langston Hughes is a delightful story because of the edifying ending, but also because of its humor. For, the reader can just picture little Roger tipping over as he tries to hang on to Mrs. Jones's purse. And, then Mrs. Jones literally attacks him:

...the large woman simply turned around and kicked him right square in his blue-jeaned sitter. Then she reached down, picked the boy up by his shirt front, and shook him until his teeth rattled.

Roger certainly has to be humiliated by being so helpless at the hands of a woman he must have believed an easy target just moments before. So, Mrs. Jones gets "the upper hand" on Roger both physically and psychologically. But, after winning the physical struggle with Roger, she proves to be a very compassionate and charitable person. Exhibiting motherly traits, Mrs. Jones asks Roger, "Ain’t you got nobody home to tell you to wash your face?” When Roger responds in the negative, she replies, "Then it will get washed this evening" and takes him to her rented room where he can wash his face while she prepares a meal for them to share.

Roger is so moved by her goodness that he comes to desire her trust in him; moreover, when she gives him her hard-earned ten dollars so that he can buy the shoes he desires, he is so touched by her charity and love that all he can say is "Thank you."

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