Thank You Ma’am

About Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Born in Joplin, Missouri, Langston Hughes moved often as a young boy. He turned to writing as a way of dealing with his ever-changing home address and with the difficulties of being a young African American in the early 1900s. People first noticed Hughes in 1921 when his poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” was published shortly after he graduated from high school.He soon won other prizes and opportunities, including a college scholarship. His first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published in 1926. Hughes wrote fiction, plays, and essays; translated other poets; and collected African American folklore.


The story “Thank You Ma’am” is about a boy who tries to pick-pocket Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones but she catches him. She takes him back to her house, tells him to wash his face, give him food, some money and most importantly her advice. She teaches/tells him that she wasn’t perfect either in her childhood and doesn’t make it right for Roger to do the same. When the boy leaves he is so grateful and he couldn’t ever mutter a thank you or any thankful gesture of gratitude.

Summary of Thank You Ma’am

The story “Thank You Ma’am” is about a boy named Roger and a large woman. The name of this large woman was Luella Bates Washington Jones. She had her purse with her while she was walking alone at was about eleven o’clock in the evening. Out of nowhere, there was this boy who ran up behind her and attempted to snatch her purse. While running, the boy lose his balance because of the weight of the purse and the woman caught him. She was mad because the boy tried to stole her pocketbook. The woman had a conversation with the boy then later on, she was too much bothered because his face was dirty; then she took him in her house.

At Mrs. Jones’ house, she asked the boy his name. And he said it was “Roger”. Then she let him wash his face in the sink. She invited him to eat with her and she even suspected him for being so hungry for trying to steal her pocketbook. But he said that the reason why he tried to snatch it because he desires to have a pair of blue suede shoes. Then Mrs. Jones said, “I were young once and I wanted things I could not get.”

They ate together and still had a conversation. When Roger was about to go home, Mrs. Jones gave him 10 dollars to buy that pair of blue suede shoes. After that, he never saw her again.

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Questions and Answers

A. Answer these questions in 30-40 worth. (factual and inferential questions)

1. What did she boy try to stench?

Ans:- The boy tried to snatch a large purse from a woman who was large. The purse contained everything in it except hammer and nails. It had a long strap and she was carrying it with its strap slung across her shoulder.

2. Why was he not successful in his attempt?

Ans:- In his attempt to snatch the nurse from the wanton, the strap broke with the single tug the boy gave it from behind. But the purse was too heavy for hint. His weight and the purse combined caused him to lose his balance and he fell on his back on the sidewalk with his legs up. That is why he was not successful in his attempt.

3. What did the woman do in response?

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

4. Why did the boy not run away when the woman finally let go of his neck?

Ans:- The boy did not run away when the woman finally let go of his neck because he began to understand that the woman had no intention to take him to jail and he was shown a motherly affection by her.

5. Why was the boy trying to steal?

Ans:- The boy wanted a pair of blue suede shoes. But he had no money. He had nobody at home to buy him the pair of shoes he wanted. That is why the boy was trying to steal.

6. Why did the woman stop watching the boy once she was inside the room?

Ans:- The woman, by that time was able to build a trust on the boy. Her treatment of the boy in her house was that the boy had no reason to mistrust her. This natural feeling the woman must have is the reason why she stopped watching the boy once she was inside the room.

7. What did the woman give the boy to eat? What does this tell you about her financial situation?

Ans:- The woman gave the boy lima beans, ham, a cocoa made out of canned milk and a piece often-cent cake. The type of food that she had with the boy tells us that she was not earning much. She was doing her job in a hotel beauty shop.

8. Do you think the boy was worse off than the woman? Sups port your answer with two examples from the story.

Ans:- I don’t. The woman too had been bad off in her past days when she was his age. For example:

a) When she was young, there were times when she wanted things but she could not get them.

b) She too had done things which she found it impossible to tell the boy or even to God.

9. Did the boy ever see the woman again? Do you think she still impacted his life?

Ans:- The boy never saw the woman again. The woman would have touched the boy’s life for good. The boy’s inability to express himself at the time of parting with the woman and his repeated expression of gratitude speaks volume for his possible change in his outlook.

10. Is the story always serious? Pick out two places where the tone of the writer is humorous.

Ans:- The story is mostly of a serious nature. Some parts do contain humor. For example, the very opening sentence of the story is humorous. It says she was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails. Another example for humour is the lady’s assertion that she would not take him jail with the face he had before it was washed.

Global Comprehension

B. Think and answer in 100-150 words.

1. What message does the story have for the reader?

Ans:- ‘Thank you M’am’ written by Langston Hughes tells us a story about an encounter between a teenage boy and an older woman. This story conveys the message that one’s living condition must not be a reason to claim to be dishonest, or to stoop to do any heinous action. In this story the boy Roger is worse off than the woman Mrs Luella Bates Washington Jones. When she was young she was equally worse off. But their outlook varies. While Roger tries to snatch a pocket book to fulfill his want, Mrs. Jones asserts that in her such a situation , in spite of the similar circum- stances of poverty, she didn’t snatch’s people’s pocketbooks. The story as it progresses unravels Mrs. Jones attempts to cone Vince the boy of his grave mistake by treating him with her motherly affection which leaves the boy trusting in what she tells him. In that case the story gives a reader the message that in order to correct somebody the use of understanding is much better than the use of punitive measures.

2. Do you think Roger expected the lady to behave as she did? Give examples to support your answer.

Ans:- Roger, one of the two characters in the story ‘Thank You’, M’am’ is initially portrayed as indulging in a devilish act of snatching a women’s pocket book in order to buy a pair of blue suede shoes. His attempt fails when the woman, Mrs. Jones, catches hold of him. The boy never expected the lady to behave as she did because her words were intimidatory. That is why the boy struggled to free himself from the lady forcing her to put a half-nelson about his neck. Once in her house the boy searched for some possibility to run away by looking at the woman and the door in turn. The boy also asked the lady whether she was going to take him to the jail. These are the examples to show that Roger did not expect the lady to behave as she did.

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3. What do you think may have happened if the boy had tried to run away?

Ans:- One possibility is that if the boy had tried to run away, Mrs. Jones would have swung into action. She would lock Roger up and teach him lessons on good conduct. The other possibility is that if he really succeeded in running away, he would remain unchanged and attempt more robbery. He would continue to disturb the society with his devilish actions. And one day or the other day he would be caught and booked to be sent to jail. In case of release, he would be always on the run.

4. Why do you think the older woman treated the boy as she did? Do you think she ever intended to take him to jail?

Ans:- The older Woman, Mrs. Jones, caught hold of the boy, Roger when he tried to snatch her purse. She kicked him Right Square in his blue-jeaned sitter. She held him by his shirt front and shook him until his teeth rattled. She dragged him along the street to her house. On further questioning, the boy revealed that he had no-body at home. He tried to snatch her pocket purse because he wanted to buy a pair of blue suede shoes. By that time Mrs. Jones had developed a motherly affection for the boy. It didn’t take much time for her to see the boy’s life of poverty because she herself had been through such a situation when she was young as a boy. Though she had not resorted to a devilish action as done by the boy, she was empathetic enough to understand the boy’s situation. That is why the older woman treated the boy as she did. I don’t think she ever intended to take him to jail. She must have been fully aware that such a step would not transform him, but his jail term would further worsen his approach to life.

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