Creativity is a crucial skill for any writer. Langston Hughes’s “Thank you, Ma’am” is a story that deftly subverts the reader’s expectations through the author’s use of figurative and literal language and a wide range of poetic techniques. People in the real world tend to spread their ideas and many predetermined decisions when something unlikely happens. Different social strata are more likely to adopt particular views and make snap judgments about others based on their actions, appearance, and words. But Hughes chooses to present a different perspective by attempting to develop Mrs. Jones and Roger, the story’s two main characters, and illuminating various themes that are creatively designed to inform society about all possible means of bringing sanity to a potentially perceived, rotten behavior within the community. Because of this, Luella Bates Washington Jones’s experience with Roger’s behavior is a central focus of this piece. Eventually, the young man expressed his gratitude to the mysterious woman for making such a challenging but motherly choice (Hughes, pg.3).
Analysis of the Story
The story of “Thank You, Ma’am” is one of luck and choice. The poem depicts two characters, one in charge and one in turmoil. Mrs. Jones says, “I was young once, and I wanted things I could not get,” which reveals that she has been desperately poor her entire life (Hughes, pg.1). But now, thanks to her alternate course of action, she has a shelter, sustenance, and income. She adds, “You thought I was going to say, but I didn’t snatch people’s pocketbooks,” indicating that she will not use her predicament to lecture. She says that she has made some poor choices, but it’s apparent that she has also made some good ones. As far as I can tell, she’s trying to convince Roger that it’s not too late to reform his ways. Mrs. Jones discontinues her inquiry into Roger’s whereabouts and activities. They have limited time together, but it is well spent. Mrs. Jones’ intended lesson for Roger is unaffected by Roger’s background, including the reasons he is alone as well as the identities and locations of his family (Hughes, pg.3). Roger, who can now make his own decisions, made a bad one. Inquiring about Roger’s family may embarrass him and reduce his interest in the lesson. In Mrs. Jones’ experience, there have been far too many similar boys. She wishes to end the cycle of punishment and invasion of privacy that our culture promotes. Mrs. Jones believes that compassion and understanding are more effective in instructing and guiding.
Another theme explored in this story is admitting fault. Roger, who lacks a solid family foundation, must rely on his own resources to survive as he wanders the streets, stealing whatever he can. Mrs. Jones teaches him the value of standing up for himself and taking charge of his own life (washing his face and combing his hair. Mrs. Jones is not only protecting Roger as a mother would, but she is also representing society by informing Roger of the consequences of his actions (Hughes, pg.3).
In that hour with Mrs. Jones, Roger learns more about life and people than he did during his entire upbringing by his own parents. Despite knowing that some people have better luck than others and that life is unfair, he also learns that his future is in his own hands and that he must first ensure that he has the bare necessities and presents himself well (Hughes, pg.3). Mrs. Jones’ forgiveness also teaches Roger the value of making his own decisions in life. Her combination of strictness and kindness has a profound effect on Roger. Furthermore, trust is a critical theme that enhances Mrs.Johnes’ decision to give Roger a second chance to improve his life (Hughes Pg.2).
Hughes employs both a colorful and descriptive style to develop his story; for instance, he quotes, “Um-hmm!… Ain’t you got nobody home to tell you to wash your face?”. He also introduces some specific languages and styles of literary devices, such as repetition, hyperboles, and interjection. He also uses exaggeration when trying to make a point, for example, “She said, ‘You a lie! This was greatly exaggerated and emphasized (Hughes, pg.2). His writing is also simple and direct, which appeals to the reader’s senses. The line “She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but a hammer and nails” exemplifies Langston Hughes’ straightforward style (Hughes, pg.1)
The story offers a unique perspective on real-life decisions. People make mistakes, and society sometimes punishes them harshly without looking into the underlying causes of their actions, even if doing so would benefit the community. And, as in Hughes’ story, Roger’s actions were motivated by his desire to acquire a pair of shoes. Mrs. Johnes decided against harshly punishing a young boy who nearly stole her purse and instead counseled him on making better choices in the future. The author’s use of various themes, techniques, and literary language contributes to an entertaining and educational story.
Hughes, Langston. The collected poems of Langston Hughes. Vintage, 2020.