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Jameo Mercer Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a famous American writer and social activist. He was interested in the revival of African folk culture. Some of his famous works are The Weary Blues (1926), Not without Laughter (1930), The Way of White Folks (1934). This story is about the sympathy shown by an older woman to a young urchin, who tried to steal her pocketbook. The young boy was eager to acknowledge the lenity shown to him by her, but he got no more chance to do that beyond a brief, “Thank You”.
Roger– a young boy who tries to steal a woman’s pocketbook
Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones– a large woman who works at a hotel beauty-shop
Roger Tries to rob Mrs. Jones
She was a large woman with a large purse that she carried slung across her shoulder. It was about eleven o’clock at night, and she was walking alone, when a boy ran up behind her and tried to snatch her purse. The strap broke but the boy lost his balance so he fell on the sidewalk. The large woman simply turned around and kicked him. Then she reached down, picked the boy up by his shirt front, and shook him.
After that the woman told him to pick up her pocketbook, and give it to her. Then she asked him if he wasn’t ashamed of himself. The boy said he was ashamed but didn’t aim to do it. The lady knew it was a lie and refused to let him loose. She remarked that his face was dirty and that she was going to wash it as she dragged him down the street.
The boy looked fourteen or fifteen, thin and wild, in tennis shoes and blue jeans. The woman said he should be her son so she could teach him right from wrong, but the least she could do right then was wash his face. She asked him if he was hungry. He said he wasn’t and just wanted her to let him go.
She told the boy he was going to remember bothering Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones. She dragged him inside her house and into a large kitchenette-furnished room at the back. The boy could hear other roomers laughing and talking in the large house.
The boy’s name was Roger and the woman asked him to go to the sink and wash his face, finally letting him loose. She gave him a clean towel too. Roger asked her if she was going to take him to jail.
The woman joked that she would be taking him nowhere with that dirty face. She believed he had tried to snatch her pocketbook because he was hungry, so she would feed him. But the boy said he had done it because he wanted a pair of blue suede shoes.
Mrs. Jones said he could have just asked her instead of trying to steal. The boy was confused by this, but the woman said that she too was young once and wanted things she could not get, and had done things she could not speak of.
Mrs. Jones and Roger have a Meal Together
She told him to sit down while she got them something to eat. She also suggested he run a comb through his hair to look presentable.
Mrs. Jones got up to get food. She did not watch the boy to see if he was going to run, nor did she watch her purse which she had left behind. But the boy sat on the far side of the room where she could easily see him if she wanted to. He did not want to be mistrusted.
Mrs. Jones heated some lima beans and ham she had in an icebox, made cocoa with canned milk, and set the table. She did not ask the boy anything about where he lived, or his family. Instead, she told him about her job at a hotel beauty-shop and what it was like. Then she gave him a half of her cake.
When they were finished eating, she gave him ten dollars to buy some blue suede shoes. She told him not to try stealing anymore because shoes bought with stolen money would burn his feet.
She bid goodbye to him and told him to behave himself as she led him out of the door. The boy wanted to say something else other than “Thank you, m’am” to Mrs. Jones, but he couldn’t do so. He barely managed to say “Thank you” before she shut the door. He never saw her again.
This story shows us the importance of kindness. Although Roger tries to steal Mrs. Jones’ pocketbook, she takes him home and feeds him. She does this because she understands that Roger is just a poor young boy who wants things he cannot have because of his financial situation. She warns Roger never to try stealing again and helps him understand his mistake through her compassion.