Thank you, M´am – Langston Hughes – Mrs Luella´s

Thank you, M´am – Langston Hughes

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Mrs Luella´s purse is meant to be a metaphor for Mrs Luella´s life

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Thank
you, M´am is a short story written by Langston Hughes in 1958.
Hughes was a social activist and author of many short stories, poems and
novels. In Thank you, M´am we are
witnessing the first encounter between Mrs Luella and Roger. Mrs Luella, the
protagonist of the story, is initially described as a large woman. She is
portrayed as reliable and fearless and reacts immediately. Meanwhile, Roger is
a boy of fifteen who appears as an attacker and a thief. Although one later in
the story understands that there is more to him than what it seems to be. Mrs
Luella is presented in the first sentence, together with her purse. The purse
is not mentioned again. However one can believe that the purse is meant to be a
metaphor for Mrs Luella´s life.

 

When Hughes decides to present the
purse in the first sentence “she was a large woman with a large purse that had
everything in it but a hammer and nails” it gives the immediate expectation
that it will be a more significant part of the story. Langston Hughes makes a
direct connection between Mrs Luella and her purse when he compares the two as
similar. Mrs Luella is described as large, and so is the purse. They first meet
when Roger tries to steal her purse, he loses his balance and falls. Mrs Luella
kicks him in the behind, drags him up and makes him pick up the purse. The
story, however, takes a turn when Mrs Luella gets concerned about Roger´s life
at home. “Um-hum! And your face is dirty. I got a great mind to wash your
face for you. Ain’t you got nobody home to tell you to wash your face?”
Just after, Mrs Luella drags Roger into her home.

 

It is also made clear that the purse
has almost everything in it. After Roger is dragged to Mrs Luella´s home, it is
shown that Mrs Luella has everything she needs to live. The only thing missing
from the purse was a hammer and nails. Which is two of the most essential and
fundamental elements when building a house. The hammer and nails can,
therefore, symbolise the missing part of Mrs Luella´s life – something
significant. One can conclude that the missing element of Mrs Luella´s life is
a child, especially after she states that “You ought to be my son. I would
teach you right from wrong. Least I can do right now is to wash your face. Are
you hungry?”

 

Later in the story, it is made clear
that Roger wants a pair of new, blue, suede shoes and that is the reason he
tries to steal Mrs Luella´s purse. When Mrs Luella finds this out, she decides
to give Roger 10 dollars. Which today might not seem as very much, but in 1958,
when the story was published, 10 dollars equalled to 85 dollars. Also, many
people claim that Mrs Luella and Roger are two African American people, mainly
because of Hughes earlier written work, such as The Negro Speaks of Rivers and
Raymond´s Run. It is never directly written, however, one can see it in the way
that Mrs Luella speaks. If Mrs Luella is an African American woman, she would
not have much money, because of the issues African American faced back in 1958.
Nevertheless, she gives Roger the money.

 

Taking all into consideration one
can conclude with the purse being a metaphor for Mrs Luella and her life. Mrs
Luella shows an excellent mother instinct towards Roger. Instead of calling the
police, she takes him to her home, feeds him and gives him money. The bag´s
size and contents are not relevant to the story; however after reading the
whole story, one can understand its importance. At the same time that the purse
is a metaphor for Mrs Luella and her life, the missing hammer and nails
symbolise the missing part, that Roger fill.

 

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