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The title refers to the moment at the end of the short story when the boy, Roger, wants to say more to Mrs. Jones, but could not.  The closing lines of the short story capture this beautifully in Hughes' powerful style:  "The boy wanted to say something other than 'Thank you, ma'm,' to Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, but although his lips moved, he couldn't even say that, as he turned at the foot of the barren stoop and looed up at the large woman in the door."  The title is a direct reference to how Mrs. Jones addressed the situation of the youth attempting to steal her money.  The woman's approach of taking the boy home, feeding him, and caring for him strikes at the essence of Hughes' desire to transform what is into what can be, but also strikes at a very humanistic approach to criminal activity.  At some level, empathy is needed to help eliminate the reason behind why people commit crimes.  In displaying her sense of  empathy behind the boy's predicament and caring for him, she has disarmed the boy, and caused him to reflect on his choices and future decisions.

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If we are talking about the Langston Hughes story, the answer is because the woman (Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones) has helped the boy (Roger) in a very important way.  She has given him back his integrity and, perhaps, hope for the future.

At the start of the story, Roger tries to rob Mrs. Jones.  But instead of turning him in to the police, she treats him with understanding and respect.

By doing this, she makes him feel like a good person -- she makes him want to behave, as when he does not steal from her when left alone with her purse.

This is a huge gift, and that is why the story has the title it does.

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Why did the writer choose "Thank You, M'am" as the title for this story?

The words of the title, "Thank You, M'am," are from the final words uttered by Roger to Mrs. Jones, and they impart the deep meaning of his encounter with her. The narrator makes two comments relevant to the meaning of the words "Thank you, m'am" that illuminate why "Thank You, M'am" is the title of the story: once in her home, Roger no longer wants Mrs. Jones to mistrust him, and, at their parting, he wants to say something else to her, but can't.  

Roger at first is terrified of Mrs. Jones, who kicks him in the seat of his blue jeans, "right square in his blue-jeaned sitter"; who picks him up and shakes him by the "shirt front," marching off "dragging the frightened boy behind her"; and who drags him up the street with "a half-nelson about his neck." When faced with a choice between a sink and an open door, he wants to run! "Roger looked at the door—looked at the woman—looked at the door--...."!

But instead of running, he chooses the sink and a washed face: he "went to the sink." As their "contact" progresses, he chooses to comb his hair and to sit where he knows she can see him, and he chooses to listen to her and share her meal and "ten-cent cake" with her--without running. Along with these choices, he changes in his attitude toward her and wants her to trust him.

   But the boy took care to sit on the far side of the room where he thought she could easily see him out of the corner of her eye, if she wanted to. He did not trust the woman not to trust him. And he did not want to be mistrusted now.

When she hands him the ten dollars for the "blue suede shoes," along with the admonition that he would behave himself "from here on in," he knows she is someone whose admonitions he would do well to follow in life.

When it comes time for them to part, with Mrs. Jones calling him "son" ("I wish you would behave yourself, son, from here on in"), Roger deeply feels the impact of the gift and the chance at a different kind of life that she has given him. He wants to say something expressive of his understanding and change of heart--to say "something else other than 'Thank you, m'am'"--but cannot manage more than to utter his "Thank you": "He barely managed to say 'Thank you'...."

    The boy wanted to say something else other than "Thank you, m’am" to Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, but he couldn’t do so as he turned at the barren stoop and looked back at the large woman in the door.

The title "Thank You, M'am" is representative of the deep change of heart wrought by Roger's "contact" with Mrs. Jones, who it seems is right in saying that, because of their "contact," he would remember Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones.

"But you put yourself in contact with me," said the woman. "If you think that that contact is not going to last awhile, you got another thought coming. When I get through with you, sir, you are going to remember Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones."

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