Thank You, Ma’m
L a n g s to n H u g h e s
A P re - R e a d i n g
Think Before You Read
Read the ﬁrst paragraph of the story once and think of it as describing the opening scene of a play. Then answer the following questions: 1. Who are the characters in this scene?
2. What is happening?
3. Where and when is the action taking place?
4. Why does the action take place?
5. Do you think a chance encounter between people can sometimes change their lives? Think about chance or fate as you read this story.
Thank You, Ma’m
Literary Term: Dialect
A dialect consists of words or phrases that reﬂect the regional variety of a language. An author or playwright will often use a regional dialect to make the dialogue more authentic. Initially, a dialect may be difﬁcult to understand; it is similar to watching a foreign ﬁlm with subtitles. However, the language will become more comfortable as you continue reading, and the rhythm of the dialect will be as natural as if you were one of the characters.
The following examples of dialect occur in the story:
gonna going to
could of could have
late as it be late as it is
I didn’t aim to I didn’t intend to
sit you down sit down
I were I was
ﬁx us prepare for us
Idioms and Expressions
Note the following idioms and expressions that appear in the story: I got a great mind to I should
get through with ﬁnish
make a dash for it run away
took care was careful
set the table put out plates, glasses,
and so forth
B Th e S to ry
About the Author
Langston Hughes (1902–1967) had a varied career that took him far away from his birthplace in Joplin, Missouri. His early love for reading books was encouraged by his mother, who often took him to the library. His mother also wrote poetry and gave dramatic readings. Her work required her to travel extensively. After his parents separated, his father moved to Mexico and Hughes went to live with his maternal grandmother. She, too, had an inﬂuence on his future career. She was a good storyteller, and she often told him about the days of slavery. The maternal inﬂuence and the sense of deep pride in his people (then referred to as Negroes) are evident in all of Hughes’s writing.
At nineteen, Langston enrolled at Columbia University but left after a year. He traveled throughout Europe and Africa and worked at many jobs, including being a deckhand on a ship and a dishwasher in a Parisian nightclub. Money was always a problem, but he persevered and remained optimistic. Whether he was struggling
A Life Lesson
as a student at Columbia or working as a waiter in Washington, D.C., he continued writing poetry that praised his race for its beauty and humanity. In the 1960s, Hughes chronicled the civil rights movement in the United States. He wrote about the sit-ins, the marches, the church bombings, the hatred, and the hope. His poem “I Dream a World” begins:
I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn.
Hughes died in 1967. His plays, poems, and stories are the legacy he left to the American people, who he hoped one day could live in racial harmony.
Thank You, Ma’m
a large woman with a
large purse that had everything in it but
a hammer and nails. It had a long strap,
and she carried it slung across her
shoulder. It was about eleven o’clock at
night, dark, and she was walking alone,
when a boy ran up behind her and tried
to snatch her purse. The strap broke
with the sudden single tug the boy gave
it from behind. But the boy’s weight
and the weight of the purse combined
caused him to lose his balance. Instead
of taking off full blast as he had hoped,
the boy fell on his back on the sidewalk
and his legs ﬂew up. The large woman
simply turned around and kicked him
right square in his blue-jeaned sitter.
Then she reached down, picked the boy
up by his shirt...
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