“Thank You, M’am” is a short story about an elderly African American woman named Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, who was walking alone in the dark, when suddenly a young boy, Roger, attempts to seize her purse. After the failed attempt, Mrs. Jackson decides to teach Roger a life lesson. Surprisingly, Mrs. Jackson did not treat Roger as if he did anything wrong; instead she allowed him to wash his face, fed him a nice meal, gave him the money for the shoes he attempted to get through stealing her purse, and sent him on his way.
Presumably, the story can be seen as an advocate to the concept that the act of discipline is not only effective in punishment, but also by presenting and teaching kindness and trust. Nonetheless, after a closer reading and observation of specific aspects of the story’s characterization, setting, and conflict; the story can also be interpretation as a tribute to the physical (or dominate), altruistic, and compassionate strength of African American women of the period of racial disparity and paternalism. There are many characteristic traits in the text that would validate the strength of Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones.
An example mentioned in the text is in the first line of the story that states, “She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails” (). In this example we are giving a physical description that implies how large woman of a woman Mrs. Washington is. Also shown in the example is her dominance and independence as the text states she had a “large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails”. Another thing to pull out from this is that the purse itself was “large”, and if it “held” so many things it had to be very heavy.
As Roger jerks at the purse, the strap breaks and “‘Roger’s’ weight and the weight of the purse combined caused him to lose his balance” (). “Then she reached down, picked the boy up by his shirt front” (). This again points out her physical strength because she picked up both Roger, who is a “fourteen or fifteen” year old teenage young man, and the heavy purse to which she had already been touting. Another example would be represented in the way that she was “dragging” Roger “behind her” as she guided him to her home.
Again, Roger is a full sized boy, It is pretty apparent he wanted and probably still attempted to get away; however, she still had the ability to “drag” him to her home. Thank You, M’am appears to be written in the 1930’s where racism was a predominate issue. The setting is during a period where many African Americans families lived with the bare minimum, if not less. There are many factors within the text that can be seen as validity to Mrs. Jackson’s economic status; her African American Native English, and the descriptions of her possessions.
An example pertaining to the word choice or language associated with Mrs. Jacksons character is demonstrated when she states; “You a lie” (), “You could of asked me” (), and “I would not take you nowhere” (). As mentioned in the text, Mrs. Jackson “was sitting on the day-bed” (). In the example, the lack of auxiliary, use of ‘of’ instead of have, and use of double negative would all suffice to the language of the African American, more prevalent in the South, to whom experience the hardships of living in an era of disparity.
An example that would also suggest that Mrs. Jackson did not have much would be represented as the text states, “the woman was sitting on her day bed” (). It can be inferred that Mrs. Jackson could not afford an ordinary bed in her household. The fact that Mrs. Jackson decided to provide for Roger despite her economic status and his attempt to steal her purse is a beautiful concept that shows how selfless and altruistic she is. In spite of the fact that Mrs. Jackson is dominate, readers are also given a kinder temperament of her throughout the text that is greatly represented in the relationship with the external conflict of the short story; Roger.
The fact that Mrs. Jackson did not use any sense of physical punishment would first indicate some type of kindness in her heart, but more specific examples are represented in the ways she speaks to Roger. An example would be when Mrs. Bate states, “Well, you didn’t have to snatch my pocket book… You could of asked me” (). In that example readers a shown that she was willing to help if only he “asked” her for the money. Another example is when Roger reveals his neglect in his home and Mrs. Jackson states, “You ought to be my son…I would teach you right from wrong” ().
It is apparent that Mrs. Jackson had sympathy for Roger since she cares enough to offer to take care of him and raise him the way he should be. There were also many instances throughout the text that entertained Roger as her “son” were Mrs. Jackson often referred to Roger as “Son”, for instance — she states, “Eat some more, son” (), “from here on in, son, I hope you will behave yourself” (). In both instances, Mrs. Jackson called Roger “son”, but the patterns also shows a sense of a mother-son relationship.
In the exploration of the short story’s literary features of characterization, setting, and conflict the reader is giving examples and evidence to comprehend the concept of the text as a tribute to the physical (or dominate), altruistic, and compassionate strength of African American women of the period of racial disparity and paternalism. By analyzing the characteristics of Mrs. Bates, readers are reintroduced to a strong and humble African American woman who selflessly cared for a neglected young man despite her struggling conditions.