Thank You Ma’m by Langston Hughes
In Thank You Ma’m by Langston Hughes we have the theme of kindness, dignity, trust, forgiveness and choice. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Hughes may be exploring the theme of kindness. Mrs Jones rather than looking for vengeance against Roger helps him to understand life a little better by showing him kindness. Not only does she bring him back to her home so that he can clean himself up but she also feeds Roger. This may be important as it suggests that Mrs Jones has a motherly instinct. Where many may have sought retribution for what Roger has done Mrs Jones doesn’t. At all stages of the story she thinks of Roger in a good light. Which suggests that Mrs Jones can see the good in everyone regardless of what they may have done. Though it may appear that she is giving out to Roger for his actions in reality Mrs Jones is attempting to show Roger that there is another way to live and there is no need to rob someone in order to obtain something that he wants (blue suede shoes). It is also noticeable that Mrs Jones trusts Roger while he is in her home. She does not fear that he may rob anything or that he may again attempt to rob her purse. Though the thought does come to Roger’s mind. Which is understandable considering that what is happening him may be considered unique. Mrs Jones has survived an attempted robbery instigated by Roger yet she does not hold this against him.
By bringing Roger home and allowing him to clean himself up Mrs Jones is also allowing Roger to keep his dignity. She doesn’t pressurize or scorn him in anyway with regard to the attempted robbery. She is more concerned about his well-being and questions him to see if he has eaten anything. Which may be significant as again it highlights to the reader the motherly instinct that Mrs Jones has when it comes to Roger. She doesn’t know him yet cares for him despite the circumstances. At no stage does the reader sense that Mrs Jones holds any form of grudge towards Roger for his actions. If anything there is a sense that she forgives him for what he has tried to do to her. It is also by forgiving Roger that Mrs Jones opens Rogers’s eyes to the idea of choice. By telling Roger that he could have asked for the money for the shoes Hughes manages to introduce choice into the story. The importance of which is that it affords Roger the opportunity to realise that there is no need for him to live his life as he is. There is another way to live.
Mrs Jones full name, Mrs Lucella Bates Washington Jones, may also be symbolically important as Hughes may be using Mrs Jones’ full name to suggest that Mrs Jones is a proud woman. She is not easily beaten. Which is very much the case in the story. At all stages of the story she remains in control particularly when it comes to her influence over Roger. She acts as though he may be one of her own children even though he is a stranger to her. She shows an interest in him that many would suspect only a mother would show. The virtues that she has she wishes to instill into Roger. Something that she manages to do despite what Roger has done. Roger is Mrs Jones’ main concern and she shows no worries that she has just being nearly robbed. Which shows an inner strength within Mrs Jones. The reader sensing that no matter what life may throw at Mrs Jones’ she will overcome any adversity she may face. Hughes manages to give the reader a woman of strength despite the fact that Mrs Jones may not be wealthy or of a class that is protected in life. She is a strong working class woman.
The end of the story is also interesting as there is a sense that Roger has never forgotten what Mrs Jones has done for him. Though he could have been prosecuted for his actions Mrs Jones allowed Roger to leave her apartment without any obstacles being put in front of him. The police weren’t called and Roger ended up getting the money for his shoes from Mrs Jones. Which in reality is something that may not necessarily happen in everyday life. Mrs Jones most likely knew that if she went to the police Roger’s life would have changed dramatically and he would have been prosecuted for his actions. Which in turn would have stayed with him for life. Mrs Jones manages to give Roger a second chance and at the same time highlight to him that there is no need to rob an individual just because you might be looking for something. There are other ways, an individual can have choices. Something that Mrs Jones has taught Roger through her act of kindness and forgiveness. At no stage does Mrs Jones hold any animosity towards Roger though some critics might suggest she has every reason to.