Thank You Madam Summary by Langston Hughes
A General Note
Thank You Ma’am is an interesting episode from Langston Hughes, an African-American poet, columnist, dramatist, essayist, lyricist and novelist.
The episode presents a thought-provoking encounter of a frail boy with an aged, strong woman. This has a lesson deep enough to affect through a very simple account. The author’s way of approach, simple yet thoughtful, is commendable , without any dispute.
A Biographical Sketch
Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, at Joplin, Missouri, USA. He was of the African-American origin. He spent the greater part of his childhood with his grandmother, in Lawrence, Kansas. After his grandmother’s death he lived with his family relations and friends, including his own mother Carrie in Lincoln, Illinois and Cleveland, Ohio. Hughes attended a high school at Cleveland.
During his schooldays, he started writing and wrote his early short stories, poems and plays. His first piece jazz poetry “When Sue Wears Red” was written in his high schooldays and much admired and prized.
Hughes had his BA Degree from the Lincoln University in 1929. He was by occupation a literary personality, reputed as a poet, dramatist, novelist and story-writer. He made important literary contributions of varied types and forms during the period of 1926 to 1964. He was a black author of repute of the last century.
Hughes died on May 22, 1967, at the age of sixty-five, at New York City, New York, USA from complications after an abdominal surgery.
Hughes’s important literary works include: Not Without Laughter (a novel: 1930), The Ways of White Folks (a collection of short-stories: 1934), Chicago-Defender (a | collection of column writings), The Big Sea, I Wonder as Wander (both autobiographical writings). His critical work The Panther and the Lash was posthumously published in 1967.
An Introductory Note
Thank You Ma’am is merely episodic . This presents a feeble young boy’s hard encounter with a stout aged woman. The boy’s attempt to snatch her big purse led to his humiliation at her hand. She sharply accused and rebuked him and dragged him to her quite big house. Strangely enough, she did not hand him over to the police . She rather forced him to wash his face and fed him.
She even gave him ten dollars to purchase a pair of blue suede shoes after knowing that he had attempted to snatch her purse to purchase such a pair of shoes. Finally, she made him leave her house after advising him to remain honest. The accused boy was full of regret and repentance. He could anyhow pronounce ‘Thank you’, though he had much more to say. They, however, never met again.
This episodic material may well be taken as a short story, It has the brevity in its length, theme and style, with only two characters and a pleasant impression. Authoritarianism and humanitarianism are found rolled in the main character of this short story-Mrs Luella Bates Washington Jones.
The title of the present writing ‘Thank You Ma’am is quite simple and short enough. This is not a single word but an expression (14) in which one person greets another politely. The sense in which the expression is used may be two-fold. First, this may be a mere address of courtesy .
One may courteously speak to another by saying ‘Thank you Sir/Madam’. Second, one may express his or her own gratitude (an: pool) to another for a certain service or help received. Here, this is a part of the obligation of the speaker who has received some sort of help or assistance .
In the present episode, the title ‘Thank You Ma’am’ is used in the latter sense. This is said by the boy Roger, one character, to the other one, Mrs Jones. Roger is of fourteen or fifteen, feeble and rather cowardish . Mrs Jones is a large, strong aged lady. Roger is caught red-handed as he is trying to snatch her big purse. She is not simply strong, but unsparing, too.
The boy, tightly under her grip, is dragged to her big house. He is sharply scolded and accused by her for his conduct. But he is not made over to the police nor physically tortured . The lady proves somewhat strange and surprising in her actual behaviour with him. Roger is made to wash his face with hot water and given food and drink.
He is even paid ten dollars to purchase a pair of blue suede shoes for which he attempted to snatch her purse. The boy is overwhelmed . Belore going out of her house, he wants to say much. But he can manage to say anyhow “Thank you Ma’am” to Mrs Jones.
The expression is a sincere admission of his deep gratitude to her for what she did to him.
In this respect, the title is extremely befitting.
One night at about eleven o’clock, a boy of fourteen or fifteen tried to snatch the big purse of a stout, large, aged lady. He failed, himself fell down and was caught red-handed by her. She sharply accused and threatened him and dragged him to her big house. The unsparing lady straight took him to a hall and continued her hard words of rebuke. The boy, Roger by name, was frail and timid and felt extremely nervous.
But the large, stout woman, Mrs Luella Bates Washington Jones acted strangely. She did not make over the boy to the police nor rphysically assaulted him. She rather made him wash his face and served him with some food and drink. She came to know from him that he had tried to snatch her big purse to have money to purchase a pair of blue suede shoes.
She talked to him of her own self, forbade him to make no such attempt in the future and gave him ten dollars to buy a pair of blue suede shoes. The boy was overwhelmed by her generosity . He wanted to say much. Before leaving her But he could only anyhow thank her and went away. He did never meet her again.
Estimate of the Story
A short story is a story that is short-even very short. Its length is short and short is its theme, with a very few characters. Its ending, too, is impressive enough.
‘Thank You Ma’am’ has all the marks of a good short story. First, its length is short, hardly four pages. The theme is too short-an attempt of snatching and a happy end with a deep lesson. Characters here are only two-Mrs Washington Jones and Roger, a boy of fourteen to fifteen.
The story has an impressive end with a deep lesson—”Remain ever to the right track to behave oneself straight and properly.” The tempted boy repents and somehow expresses his earnest gratitude to the large woman. She catches his crime and saves him from punishment. His dirty face is cleansed and so is his mind. His words of gratitude come from his heart and rightly ends the story with a lesson that lasts’Thank Ma’am.’
The story is rightly short with a pointed message. What is more, this has no undue elaboration. Both narration and dialogue are well controlled. These are brief to the core as in a good short story. What is more, sentences are short, simple and convincing.