We begin by reading Langston Hughes' powerful story, "Thank You, Ma'am." Hughes' story tells about Roger, a young man who attempted to snatch a woman's purse so he could buy a pair of blue suede shoes. Mrs. Louella Bates Jones caught Roger, "put a half nelson about his neck," and took him home to her apartment where he learned a valuable lesson about compassion and forgiveness. The story prompts our discussion about why we buy—or steal— things we can't afford.
Hughes constructs his story through a series of small scenes. As we read, I ask students to note how Hughes shows the toughness and compassion of Mrs. Louella Bates Jones. Mrs. Jones surprised Roger with her actions, maternal banter, and generosity. Through short dialogue sequences, Mrs. Jones also uncovers Roger's living situations:
"Are you going to take me to jail?" asked the boy, bending over the sink.
"Not with that face, I would not take you nowhere," said the woman. "Here I am trying to get home to cook me a bite to eat and you snatch my pocketbook! Maybe you ain't been to your supper either, late as it is. Have you?"
"There's nobody home at my house," said the boy.
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