Cultural and Racial Criticism

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“Dave struck out across the fields, looking homeward through parting light. Whut’s the us talkin wide m n****** in the field” (Wright)? The author of this short story, Richard Wright, was born in Roxie Mississippi to a mother and father who were children of slaves. Wright wrote many inspiring true stories and novels such as Native Son, Uncle Tom’s Children, and Eight Men (Wright Biography). One of the most symbolic and influential pieces Richard wrote is called The Man Who Was Almost a Man. The short story takes place in the south with a young African-American boy struggling to find his manhood. Using racial/cultural criticism, a reader can analyze Richard Wright’s “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” by using the aspect of diction and grammar, white-black relationships, and family relationships.

First, the diction and grammar used throughout this short story can give the reader an idea of the cultural aspect and racial criticism. The shopkeeper in the town, Joe, greets the young African-American boy by saying, “Howdy Dave” (Wright). This shows the cultural aspect of the story because it hints that the setting is in the south. Typically, northerners would not say “Howdy”, instead they are more likely to greet with words like “Hello” or “Hi”. Not only does this indicate the setting, but it can also give the reader an idea of the morals and views of the characters. For example, the view on farming and chores may mean something different to people in the south than people in the north. This indicates that their main ideas will be based off of hard work and family businesses. As one reads, one will find that the greeting, “Howdy”, did show that the setting was in the south and the story was based off of a hard-working young boy who spends most of his time on the farm caring to crops and livestock. Dave later exclaims, “Waal, Ahma buy a gun” (Wright). As one can see, the grammar is incorrect and the character is using slang which can be interpreted into racial criticism. The grammar Dave uses expresses his intelligence level which can reflect on his race, because in the early 1900’s African-Americans did not have the educational opportunities that the whites did. Also, the fact that Dave wants to purchase a gun can reflect on his views of power. To a white male in the early 1900’s, power means education, owning property, and capital. To a black male, power may mean freedom and violence in Dave’s case. Dave needs a gun to feel powerful and like the “man” of the household which shows the racial criticism. The grammar and the culture in this short story can be easily found and supported.

Second, the white-black relationships are applicable in “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”. Two quotes that were found in this short story show that the white individuals have power over the black individuals and their relationship is pure business and labor. Dave says, “Shucks Mista Joe” (Wright). This quote shows that Dave has to refer to the white man as mister but the white man never refers to Dave, the black man, as mister. Therefore, the white man has power over the black man in this time era and it is expressed through Richard Wright’s short story. While Dave is working for Mister Hawkins he says, “Ah didn’t know ah wuz gittin up so early, Mistah Hawkins. Ah wuz fixin t hitch up ol Jenny n take her t the fields” (Wright). This shows that the young black man does chores for the white man. This shows the laborer relationship of the black boy and the white man. The white man only sees the young black man as a laborer and his worker, while the black man only sees the white man as his boss. As one can see, the black and white relationships in this novel are not compassionate or friendly, they are professional and labor involved.

Next, the third criticism I found in “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” is family relationships. The family relationships depicted in this short story follow the rules of the conformists in our society today. The man is the bread winner and the woman is the home keeper, also the man is more dominate than the woman in all family decisions. Wright writes, “He did not mention money before his father” (Wright). This can show that the father makes the decisions in the household and that he is intimidating and strict with the money. Dave is afraid to confront his father about money and this can reflect on his father’s views on money and how it circulates within the family. Since the father brings in the majority of the money, he is probably sparing and protective with his money. This intimidation that Dave feels shows that he has a poor relationship with his father as he cannot ask him anything to do with money and he cannot express his feelings about the gun he wants. On the other hand, Dave has a good relationship with his mother. Dave might have a better relationship with her than his father because in the 1900’s the woman mainly stayed at home and reared the children while the man was gone at work all day. If the mother is spending more time at home, then she is spending more time with Dave which shows why they might have a stronger relationship. Dave’s mother says, “Ah’ll let yuh git tha gun ef yuh promise me one thing” (Wright). This shows that the son is closer with his mother and that the mother is more sympathetic than the father because she lets him buy the gun. One can also compare the mother and the father by saying that the mother is more easily convinced than the father. Overall, the family relationships reflect the way of living in the time era in this short story.

Using racial and cultural criticism, a reader can analyze Richard Wright’s “The man Who Was Almost a Man” by using the aspect of diction and grammar, white and black relationships, and family relationships. This short story is significant because it discusses the aspects of culture and race which can enlighten readers to the way of living in that time era through a young African-American boy’s perspective.





Bibliography

“Richard Wright Biography.” Buffalo.edu. Web. 28 Mar. 2011.
http://www.math.buffalo.edu/~sww/wright/wright_bio.html#refs

Wright, Richard. The Man Who Was Almost a Man. Print.





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