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Literary Analysis of "The Man Who Was Almost a Man"

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To emphasize his philosophy, Richard Wright once said, “Men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread” (Thinkexist). Wright was simply saying that it is important to know who one is otherwise it’s as if one is dead. In his short story “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” Richard Wright put an extreme emphasis on this idea of knowing who one is because the main character, David Saunders, was struggling to know who exactly he was. He felt that with a gun he could prove to everyone in his southern town that he was a man. This idea of knowing who one is has been made quite clear in “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”. Richard Wright was also from the south and he too suffered from an identity crisis. This identity crisis compelled him to leave his small town due to the Jim Crow laws enacted during the time period (Rayson). He left to find his own identity. Clearly David Saunders and Richard Wright have some similarities. Using racial/cultural criticism, a reader can analyze Richard Wright’s “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” by using the setting and cultural aspects through the social status of the main character, character relationships through family, and character relationships through race (white-black).

To begin with, David Saunders’s family is a struggling African-American family. This is made clear when his mother says, “Waal that’s good. We kin use it [Sears Catalogue] in the outhouse”(Wright). His family is at a financial point where the bare necessities cannot be met. They have to find ingenious methods of meeting their necessities. This is one of many clues that point to the Saunders family being of low social status. The family seems to be struggling to a point where David isn’t even trusted with his own money. Richard Wright makes this clear through this passage, “She stooped, turned slightly to one side, raised the hem of her dress. Rolled down the top of her stocking and came up with a slender wad of bill”(Wright). David is not trusted with his own money because his parents seem to think he’d spend it on fickle things. This makes David feel like his manhood is diminished and that he really had to “self” to recognize because other people do things for him. David’s mother on the other hand, makes it quite clear that as a family every penny counts and that’s why she takes care of David’s money.

The next analysis that one can examine is the family relationship found in “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”. David’s father has a small appearance in this short story, but this appearance makes a strong comment on the relationship between the family. David is intimidated by his father and this intimidation is made clear in this passage: “He did not mention money before his father. He would do much better by cornering his mother when she was alone” (Wright). David feels less in control around his father, which leads to him feeling less like a man. He cannot get the money for the gun he wants if his dad is present when he asks for it. The relationship between father and son in this short story is made to be a faltering one with a lot of intimidation. David knows that he can do better by asking his mother for money but even then he barely seems to stand a chance. His mother says, “Yuh ain ganna toucha penny of tha money fer no gun! That’s how come Ah has Mistah Hawkins t pay me, cause Ah knows yuh ain got no sense” (Wright).His mother is reluctant to give him the money which prevents David from getting a gun and achieving his goal of proving he’s a man.

The final analysis that can be made in “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” is through character relationships through race. In this short story, it is made clear that Richard Wright’s commentary on racial relationships between white and black people during the time period this story was written was not one of equality. This is made clear in David’s approach to a white owned shop. Richard Wright wrote, “He felt very confident until he saw fat Joe walk in through the rear door, then his courage began to ooze” (Wright). David does not feel comfortable going to a store owned by a white person and it causes him to feel uncomfortable. He goes from know who he is and being full of courage, to being a scared and confused person. He feels like he cannot be a man because it seems that he isn’t control of the situation. He feels inferior to Joe because Joe is white and he is not. This is a subtle but strong reflection of the intimidation factor in the town due to racial differences. Throughout the short story, David feels compelled to prove something to everyone in his town. He wants to prove that he’s a man not a little boy and that’s why he wants a gun. This longing leads him to think, “Laed, ef Ah had just one mo bullet Ah’d taka shot at tha house. Ah’d like t scare ol man Hawkins jusa little… Jusa enough t let im know Dave Saunders is a man” (Wright). David thinks that with a gun he can prove he’s a man and this quote demonstrates that he feels that he has been suppressed by his boss. He feels that he has been taken advantage and he wants his boss to know that he too has some sort of power.

In conclusion, there are many important aspects that can be found in “The Man Who Was Almost a Man.” Richard Wright thought it to be important that people know who they are in the world and made this quite clear in this short story. David Saunders struggled to discover who he was and what his purpose in the world was. Through the racial/cultural criticism one can better analyze “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” by examining the setting and cultural aspects through the social status of the main character, character relationships through family, and character relationships through race. “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” is an important literary element because it shows the implications of racial differences in the South. This story provides a good example for future generations of why it is important to recognize who one is and what role one plays in society because it gives one a sense of being. David Saunders felt that a gun would give him that realization of who he was but instead it lead to the death of a horse and eventually to him having to run away from his problems. This story proves that it is of dire importance to recognize one’s self in order to prevent serious problems from arising.







Works Cited
Rayson, Ann. "Richard Wright's Life." Welcome to English « Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois. Web. 29 Mar. 2011. <http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/s_z/r_wright/wright_life.htm>.
"Richard Wright Quotes." Find the Famous Quotes You Need, ThinkExist.com Quotations. Web. 29 Mar. 2011. <http://thinkexist.com/quotes/richard_wright/>.
Wright, Richard. The Man Who Was Almost a Man. Print.



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imnotmarvin said...
Jun. 22, 2012 at 11:16 am:

I disagree that the setting for this book is in a Southern Town; given the approximate era, early 20th century, as evidenced by the manual plowing of fields and barrels of flour in Joe's Store. Wright lived in Chicago for a while. I belive the area outside Chicago a more accurate setting given the peaceable nature of the relationship between black and white: Joe sells gun to Dave, black and white gather in crowd together, Jim doesn't attack Dave or his father for loss of Jenny. Also the menti... (more »)

 
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