Thank You Ma’am by Langston Hughes

Character analysis:

Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones

   Let’s examine one of the main characters in this short story by Langston Hughes. Aside from the fact that we are told she is a large woman, we do not know much about her physical characteristics. We are, however, given several clues to her character and life thoughout the story. The first impression we get of her is that she is ballsy and strong. Instead of acting scared and surprised when the boy tries to take her purse, she turns and kicks him in the rear. Most women would have been at least shaken up, and certainly wouldn’t have wanted to confront their assailant. As the story continues, we are told that she works in a beauty shop, and lives in a house that rooms several other people. She apparently has the one room to herself, since it has a daybed on one side and a makeshift kitchen on the other with only a gas plate and an icebox behind a screen. This suggests that she is a hard working woman who doesn’t have much. The fact that she has possibily three last names could mean that she has been married several times, but we are given the impression that she is alone. Her actions toward the boy are not what you would expect for someone in her situation.

   It is in her words that we are given a glimpse of what motivated her to try to connect with this stranger who attacked her. We hear a maternal tone in her words to the boy when she is asking him questions. She scolds him, but takes care of him by making him clean up and then offering food. She makes a reference to God, so she is probably a spiritual woman. She hints at a difficult past and gives the impression of learning by making mistakes herself. And in the end, she gives the boy some of her hard earned money after giving him some kindness and advice, hoping to deter him from a life of crime. She comes across as a strong, but warm, woman who has had a hard life that has given her understanding and compassion for this boy’s situation in life.

How does this story relate to contemporary times?

   There are many kids who are living in homes where the parents are not around. Either the parents are working all the time, or they are just neglectful. These kids usually grow up without someone to teach them right from wrong or to make sure they are not getting in trouble. This could take place anywhere, because even kids of today want things that they can’t afford. There is rampant stealing in our schools because kids don’t feel a sense of wrongness in taking something from someone if they want it for themselves.

   In the present time, I feel that we don’t have enough people who would take the time to teach or influence someone in the boy’s situation. Everyone is running at such a fast pace and are so concerned with their own little world that I wonder if we have lost that compassion that Langston’s character exhibited. I think that we have also become more afraid because of the frequency of violence we are told about in the news. Most of us today would not confront an attacker of any age for fear of physical harm. The crime of someone trying to steal your purse on the street might happen in today’s time, but the chances of the victim and the attacker having a conversation over dinner afterwards is pretty slim.

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