Does "Thank You, M'am" use direct or indirect characterization?

Quick answer:

"Thank You, Ma'am," like most stories, contains many examples of both direct and indirect characterization.

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Direct characterization consists of the explicit descriptions of a character in a narrative, while indirect characterization consists of the way the character reveals himself or herself through actions, speech, and thought. The difference between the two is sometimes described as the difference between telling and showing.

The first sentence of "Thank You, M'am" is a good example of direct characterization:

She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails.

This provides the beginnings of a physical description for Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones. The end of the paragraph, in which she picks up her assailant by the shirt front and shakes him until his teeth rattle, provides an instance of indirect characterization. The reader understands that Mrs. Jones is a formidable personality who is not to be trifled with.

Roger is also characterized both directly and indirectly. Hughes contrasts his physique with that of Mrs. Jones, saying,

He looked as if he were fourteen or fifteen, frail and willow-wild.

Roger's vulnerability and general distrust of strangers is the subject of several pieces of indirect characterization, as he considers running away even after Mrs. Jones has shown that she has a kind heart and is sympathetic to his plight:

After he had dried his face and not knowing what else to do dried it again, the boy turned around, wondering what next. The door was open. He could make a dash for it down the hall. He could run, run, run, run, run!

At the end of the story, Mrs. Jones demonstrates her sympathy for Roger with a gift of ten dollars. This piece of indirect characterization is far more effective than a mere statement that she has a generous character. This does not mean that direct characterization has no subtlety, however. The reader infers much about Roger's domestic situation from the direct detail of his dirty face. Like most effective narratives, "Thank You, M'am" contains a balance of direct and indirect characterization.

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