"Thank You Ma'am" is a story about a young boy named Roger who tries to steal a purse from a woman named Luella Bates Washington Jones. After sending Roger flying onto the sidewalk, Mrs. Jones picks him up, takes him home, cleans him up, feeds him and gives him the money he tried to steal. As the boy leaves, he wants to say, "Thank you, ma'am," but cannot.
According to the American Literature website, though the characters are obviously African-American, the story is more about morality than racial inequality. The poverty of the characters is accentuated, and Hughes brings out compassion and decency that transcends barriers such as race, class, age and finances.
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, Langston Hughes was one of the most important chroniclers of the American black experience. He was 23 years old when, after showing some of his poems to American poet Vachel Lindsay, his work began to reach a wide audience. Awards and book publications followed. Hughes published not only collections of short stories, but also poetry, novels, plays and an autobiography. He is regarded as one of the most important black writers and a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. He died of prostate cancer in 1967, but his work continues to be popular all over the world.