If you are completing this unit on your own, read the excerpt below and answer the questions following it. Perhaps write down answers to the questions. If you are completing this unit with others as part of a course or workshop, you can discuss your answers to the questions with one or more of your colleagues.
The following excerpt is the beginning paragraph of “Thank You, Ma’am,” a story by Langston Hughes:
She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails. It had a long strap, and she carried it 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 with the 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 so, 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 front, and shook him until his teeth rattled.
- Do you picture this scene as happening on a street in a big city or in a small town?
- Do you imagine the woman as young, middle-aged, or old?
- Do you imagine her as middle-class, rich, or poor?
- About what age and size do you imagine the boy is?
- The paragraph doesn’t tell the reader, any of the things you were asked to imagine, what in your past experience might have led you to imagine the street, woman, and boy as you do?
- Later on in the story, the boy is described as “frail” and “willow-wild”; does that change your image of him?
- Later in the story, the woman makes supper for the boy and gives him hot cocoa; does that change your image of her?
- Would your changed images be an indicator of reading comprehension?
The author, Langston Hughes, has given the reader words he thinks are important to the artistic purposes of the beginning of his story. Readers construct their own version of the scene because (1) words have slightly different meanings to different people and (2) many details of the scene are omitted on purpose. Later on in the story, the author tells the boy’s age and size as well as other things about the boy and the woman. Changing your version of the story as you read is an indicator that you are paying attention and learning from the text.