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Good and Evil in Langston Hughes' "Thank You Ma'am"

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Langston Hughes’ book written in 1958, ‘’Thank you ma’am’’ is set in Harlem New York during a time that New York experienced rapid population growth. It explores the effects of kindness and trust. A young boy snatches a purse from an elderly woman, but unluckily he fails to take off and is captured by the woman who holds her by the throat. He expects the woman to call the police but the woman offers to take him home, clean him up, feed him, and eventually she offers him money to buy what he wanted. The motive of the boy was to snatch the purse and run not knowing what was in it. The woman later tells him that all he could have done was ask.

Philosophical Approach

The story presents a life in society where people are willing to forgive and help even after being offended. Mrs. Jones does the unexpected by showing kindness to a boy who not only is a stranger but also tried to snatch her purse. It points out that no matter the circumstance people should be given time to explain their story before they are judged. She brings out the morals that most of the time society ignores. She has a past that she is not proud of her but chooses and this pushes her to show Roger ways in which he can do the right thing.

Mankind has different relationships with God. Mrs. Jones appears to know something about God as she tells the boy, ‘’I have done things, too, which I would not tell you son-neither tell God, if he already didn’t know’’. She appears to know God but she is not ready to repent or tell God about her past and things she might have done

The story’s moral as depicted through the actions of Mrs. Jones and Roger is both explicit and implicit. Mrs. Jones tries to teach Roger ways in which he can become morally upright, and explains to him that she had done bad things but in her past. She is trying to tell Roger that no matter how many bad things he has done, he can always change and be morally upright.

The author appears to be keen on repentance though he lets his characters be depicted as immoral people. But he is quick to let the reader know that one can be a very bad person and change to become morally upright. He depicts God as someone supernatural who already knows before they are asked. The author is not religious but he knows God and through Mrs. Jones he tells the writer the importance of repentance.

Langston believes that good and evil are not miles apart. By explaining the crime and making the reader understand that it was out of necessity that roger wanted to steal form Mrs. Jones. He is trying to make us understand that Roger is not really a bad boy but he is only trapped in a very difficult situation.

The author identifies situations where good and evil conflict. Mrs. Jones tries to be good to a boy who had stolen from him. It is human nature that the boy would have been punished or taken to the police. Mrs. Jones takes it to herself to teach the boy the goodness of being honest. She even puts a suggestion to her that she could have asked for the money. Stealing is an evil in society and Mrs. Jones knows that punishing the boy will not help him. Instead he gives him a choice to differentiate between living honestly and stealing.

Langston tries to show that every human has their way of associating with other people in a community. Mrs. Jones chose not to punish the boy and thus it raises the question about how someone else could have handled the situation. He tries to make us understand that many people could have taken him to the police. Roger also expected the same because he asks Mrs. Jones whether she was going to take her to the police.


Stealing is a bad vice that should not be condoned in society. But when Rogers tries to steal from Mrs. Jones and she forgives him and even offers him money to buy shoes, it raises questions on morals and what society is doing towards improving the moral standards. Mrs. Jones connects with the boy and understands his background and offers to help not only by giving him money but by letting him choose between good and evil. He gives him the opportunity to run but he doesn’t. The author has succeeded in bringing the relationship between evil and good to test.

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Good and Evil in Langston Hughes’ “Thank You Ma’am”. (2020, September 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from
“Good and Evil in Langston Hughes’ “Thank You Ma’am”.” GradesFixer, 01 Sept. 2020,
Good and Evil in Langston Hughes’ “Thank You Ma’am”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Jun. 2022].
Good and Evil in Langston Hughes’ “Thank You Ma’am” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2020 Sept 01 [cited 2022 Jun 24]. Available from:
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