What Is the Theme of “Thank You M’am?”

The power of love and trust against the backdrop of poverty is the primary theme of Langston Hughes’ short story “Thank You, M’am.” The collision of Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones with the young Roger, who tries to steal her purse, is both psychological as well as physical. His desire to own a pair of blue suede shoes motivates him to try what appears to be his first robbery, but her upright morality and firm belief in doing what is right knocks his greed right down to the ground.

Several of the smaller details in this story augment the larger themes at work. The widow’s name mirrors the slavery codes at work when the United States was founded, but her first two names also show the pride of the everyday person. Mrs. Jones’ dignity comes through in what she offers Roger: first, neatness and dignity. She gives him a neat place to sit down and eat, and by leaving her door open, she makes the decision to stay. It is this respect that motivates him to want to earn her trust. Even though Mrs. Jones has little money, she gives what she can to Roger, and then she closes the door behind him, giving him the choice as to what to do with it. That trust is the most important element of all philanthropy.