Thank You, M'am Themes
The two main themes in “Thank You, M’am” are the power of love and the importance of personal choice.
- The power of love: Langston Hughes focuses on the universal power of love and trust in “Thank You, M’am.”
- The importance of personal choice: As in most of Hughes’s work, circumstances and society may be unfair, but the individual has a choice. Roger, like Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, must create his own dignity and freedom.
Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 534
The Effects of Kindness
When Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones encounters the aggressive and cruel actions of a young boy who intends to mug her, she reacts with firmness and compassion. Initially, Mrs. Jones is shaken, as evidenced by how she physically shakes Roger and refuses to turn him loose. However, the wisdom she has acquired through her long life reveals a hard truth about Roger's situation. He is dirty, thin, and not properly cared for.
Mrs. Jones decides to take Roger home and attend to his immediate needs. She offers him a place to get cleaned up and then feeds him a warm meal. By taking Roger into her home, she extends a sense of motherly guidance and acceptance toward a young boy whose physical needs are not being met by his family.
Roger's intentions quickly change because of her willingness to extend kindness toward him. He no longer wants to victimize this older woman and instead wants to be a boy who can be trusted.
Mrs. Jones's actions embrace Roger in a sense of shared humanity and offer him the opportunity to develop his conscience. Although he has numerous chances to run away, Roger chooses to stay and even offers to help Mrs. Jones with their meal. The ending suggests that Mrs. Jones's kindness has transformed Roger's character in ways that will last beyond this chance encounter.
Family and Community
Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones and Roger are initially depicted as opposites. While Mrs. Luella is a large, older, hardworking woman, Roger is young, frail, and irresponsible. Yet it's essential to recognize the ways their two lives intersect. Both are walking alone at night when most people would be at home. Roger doesn't have anyone looking out for him, and the number of surnames suggests that Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones has been married at least twice but is now seemingly living alone. Additionally, they both share a history of poor choices.
Mrs. Jones does not further elicit the young boy's shame regarding his home life when he sits down to dinner. Instead, she offers a welcoming atmosphere and tries to step in as his temporary guardian.
The older woman offers guidance that Roger should make himself more presentable by cleaning himself up and sharing her meager resources to offer him a warm meal. Her actions are maternal, filling a void in the young boy's life, even for one brief evening.
Being accepted as family is transformational to Roger's outlook. Instead of wanting to steal from this older woman, he wants to please her and earn her trust. The sense of home elicits an entirely new perspective, leaving Roger deeply thankful for Mrs. Jones's guidance. This unlikely, albeit temporary, relationship indicates that family and community can be created and chosen and are not definite constructs based on biology and inheritance.
Roger leaves this temporary home as a better person than before he met Mrs. Jones. The ending suggests that having a sense of family and a place to belong has allowed Roger to develop into a man who can positively contribute to his community. Supportive and healthy families, however constructed, are therefore demonstrated to be the cornerstone of secure and benevolent communities.