Thank You, Ma’am Summary, Theme, Critical Appreciation by Langston Hughes
Thank You, Ma’am Summary
A large woman with a heavy side-bag was walking down the pavement. The name of the place, the ruler may safely guess, was Harlem. Suddenly an urchin tried the snatch her purse by the strap. The strap snapped but the bag being too heavy for the boy to pull, he lost his balance and fell down on his back. The large woman turned around and lodged a solid kick at the posterior of the boy. Then the woman gripped the boy firmly by his shirt and made him stand.
Dialogues followed and the woman did not let the boy run away. It was revealed from the conversation that the boy had nobody in the world. The woman felt that since nobody was there to take care of the boy, she would at least; cleanse the face of the boy. So, like a kitten hanging between the forefinger and the middle, the woman dragged the boy.
The boy was in his teen, frail and longed to be released from the woman’s grip. But the woman dragged him to her home, a boarding house, pushed him inside down a hall. The woman, known as Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones still gripped the boy firmly. By then the boy had told her that his name was Roger, and she asked him to go to the sink to wash his face.
Suffering from an initial duality of perception-whether to run away through the open front door or not, he decided to go to the sink to wash his face. The woman knew that the boy was hungry and that was perhaps the reason for his snatching the side-bag. But the boy said that he wanted to buy a pair of blue suede shoes and as such, he needed the money.
The woman admitted that she also committed some silly mistakes in her youth but never stole someone’s purse. Mrs. Jones vanished behind a curtain to cook some food whereas the boy sat at a corner of the sofa from where she could easily watch her. The human bondage of mutual trust has already set in. The supper over, Mrs. Jones gave ten dollars to the boy to buy a pair of blue suede shoes and warned him not to steal ever. Out on the street, the boy wanted to say something to Mrs. Jones more than a mere thanks’, but couldn’t. He never saw her ever.
Thank You, Ma’am About the Author Langston Hughes
James Mercer Langston Hughes (1901-1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. One of the earliest innovators of the literary art form called “Jazz poetry”, Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that “the Negro was in vogue”, which was later paraphrased as “when Harlem was in vogue.”
Growing up in a series of Midwestern towns, Hughes became a prolific writer at an early age. He moved to New York City as a young man, where he made his career. He graduated from High school in Cleveland, Ohio, and soon began studies at Columbia University in New York City. Although he dropped out, he gained notice from New York publishers, first in “The crisis” magazine and then from book publishers, and became known in the creative community in Harlem.
He eventually graduated from Lincoln University. In addition to poetry, Hughes wrote plays and short stories. He also published several non – fiction works. From 1942 to 1962, as the Civil Rights movement was gaining traction, he wrote an in-depth weekly column in a leading black newspaper, “The Chicago Defender.”
Thank You, Ma’am Theme
Langston Hughes short story, “Thank you, Ma’am” is an excellent example of human bondage. It is a proof that the world has still some people in it whose hearts are punctuated with love, care, tenderness and above all, a feeling for the wretched and the downtrodden. Roger, a frail street urchin in teens tried to snatch Mrs. Jones’ shoulder purse.
The strap of the purse snapped but the weight of the bag had impaired Roger’s balance and he fell on the pavement lifting his legs skyward. Mrs. Jones, a sturdy, strong woman caught him by the shirt and before the curious eyes of the bystanders, dragged him to her home, a boarding house. If Mrs. Jones had handed him over to the police; he might have either been tried in a juvenile court, or worse, sent to a Borstal school. Mrs. Jones dragged Roger to her home, had his face washed, hair combed and helped him with a supper.
Roger had no warm heart waiting at his home. He was a destitute. He tried to snatch Mrs. Jones’ bag as he needed money to buy a pair of blue suede shoes. Mrs. Jones gave him ten dollars to buy a pair of blue suede shoes and simply told him never to steal. Roger came out to the pavement, looked back. Mrs. Jones called him “son”-who tried to snatch Mrs. Jones’ bag.
Roger wanted to say something more than a dry “Thank you” to Mrs. Jones, but could not utter anything but “Thank you” before she shut the door. We can well perceive that the thief in Roger had paled into insignificance. Instead, a teen-aged boy took a rebirth in him. His transformation was complete.
“Thank you, Ma’am” is a short story written by Langston Hughes and published in 1958. Though Hughes doesn’t explicitly state what the setting of the story is, there are some clues that indicate the general place and the time. For one thing, the story was published in 1958, and the Mrs. Jones’ motherly heart got the better than that of an admonisher, and she made Roger wash his face, comb and sit in a place. Roger’s face showed that he was hungry and so she cooked some food and fed Roger.
Stiffened by the discernment and cruelty of the material world, Roger learnt that he must snatch things from others to get his own. But Mrs. Jones raised the curtain in his mind where from a boy, as innocent as others, peeped out. Mrs. Jones bade him good bye and Roger, who had so many things to unfold, could only utter “Thank you”. Therefore, the title is justified.
Thank You, Ma’am Critical Appreciation
“Thank you, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes presents a pen-picture of the socio-economic conditions of the African-Americans in America. The story is confined to two characters and these characters reveal themselves through dialogues and situations which are the essential features of a novel, rather than a short story. The narrative is neutral and provides insight into both Roger and Mrs. Jones.
The purpose of using colloquialism and sluggish dialect is to bring out realism in the story. Destitution, loneliness, insecurity, fears, greed are all mixed in the characters and the situations. The eternal human qualities like love, compassion, trust, respect and such other things, hitherto silted under the layers of inhuman, unequal socio – economic combat, are dug out from the depth of oblivion.
Thank You, Ma’am Characters
Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones or more simply, Mrs. Jones worked in the Beauty Salon of a hotel meant for women only. She had to work till late at night and walk home at that hour. The setting is probably Harlem, a crime prone zone in America where African-Americans prevailed by number.
Mrs. Jones was a well built, strong woman by nature and by heart. Once she caught a purse-snatcher on her way home. The snatcher was a frail, teen-aged destitute who wanted to buy a pair of blue suede shoes with the snatched money. What is expected at this juncture is that Mrs. Jones would hand him over to police and the police in turn, would either send him to a court for juvenile crime or worse, to a Borstal school.
Instead, Mrs. Jones dragged the boy named Roger to her home, a boarding house, made him wash his face, and then Roger sat on the bedstead like a good boy as awaiting his mother to cook his meal.
The front door was open and if Roger took a full blast out of the door, nobody could catch him. But he didn’t. Mrs. Jones disclosed that she also wanted things in her youth like others did, but didn’t get those. She admitted that she also did unfair things on her youth.
After that, it appears from the continuous conversation between Mrs. Jones and Roger that it was quite a normal conversation between a mother and her son. Mrs. Jones’ motherhood got the better and her fondness for Roger, until then a juvenile criminal, was evident from her paying ten dollars to Roger and from her warning, “I wish you would behave yourself, son, from here on in.” Roger was transformed into a mother’s son.
A frail, petty, juvenile criminal at his early teens, Roger was a destitute. When he was caught by Mrs. Jones for her purse-snatching, he thought that the lady would hand him over to the police. But instead, she dragged her to her home, which was a boarding house, made him wash his face, comb his hair and fed him with a square supper.
Roger was never accustomed to such motherly behaviour. All he knew was that he must steal things for his own. He didn’t do anything at that age to earn his livelihood. He had a kind of home, but no warm heart waited there for him. Therefore, he took a short cut to success. He started stealing.
Mrs. Jones’ motherly love re-invented the innocent boy in him. When Mrs. Jones was busy preparing meal, Roger could have easily dashed out of the house. But the thought of running away from Mrs. Jones never occurred to him. He sat at the bedstead, like a mother’s child throughout Mrs. Jones’ cooking and had his meal.
When Mrs. Jones offered him ten dollars to buy a pair of blue suede shoes and bade him good bye, he was overwhelmed with emotion. Motherhood’s sudden gush of love almost inundated the thief in Roger and he was reincarnated as a human being- pure at his heart.
Thank You, Ma’am Annotations and Vocabulary
Slung — suspended, especially with a strap
Rattled — made a rapid succession of short, sharp knocking sounds
Tug — pull hard
Full blast — run away at great speed
Frail — weak and delicate
Willow — wild-growth like wild willows without care
Half-nelson — A wrestling hold
Latching — fasten a door or gate with a latch
tug — to pull hard and quickly
large — huge, quite big
pocket book — purse
turn loose — to let someone or something free blue feared sitter backside of someone wearing blue jeans.
short front — front part of a shirt
lima beans — edible flat bean
kitchenette — area of a room used as a kitchen
latching — fasten a door with a latch
supper — light evening meal after dinner
suede — type of leather with a velvety raised surface
presentable — work to be presented
ice-box — cold storage box to keep food.
gas plate — natural gas flame for cooking
popped out — to come out, appear
embarrass — to make someone feel uncomfortable
barren — unproductive
devilish — like a devil
stoop — to look down upon
frowned — expression of displeasure or disapproval
mistrusted — not trust worthy
barely — hardly, almost not
salon — beauty parlour.