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The Man Who Was Almost a Man Analysis

“Ahead the long rails were glinting in the moonlight, stretching away, away to somewhere, somewhere where he could become a man…” Wright received several different literary awards during his lifetime including the Spingarn Medal in 1941, the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1939, and the Story Magazine award. Richard Wright’s story The Man Who Was Almost a Man tells the story of a young black boy, destined to become a man, who lived in the slavery era. While the story takes place about 100 years ago, it still teaches lessons about life today. Using reader response criticism a reader can analyze “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” using aspects of word shortening, social status, and character relationships.
Word shortening is very evident in The Man Who Was Almost a Man. Near the end of the story, Dave’s mother and father question him:
-“‘Whut yuh do wid tha gun?’ his mother asked
-‘Whut wuz he doin wida gun?’ his father asked
-‘Come on and tell the truth,’ said Hawkins. ‘Ain’t nobody going to hurt you’” (Wright).
Word shortening is evident in the story and it shows which race the person is who is speaking. The story depicts the blacks as having less intelligence and speaking incorrectly. The African Americans shorten their words in the story and tend to not think much of it. While a lack of intelligence is probably the main reason for this, some of the black people may shorten their words for other reasons. Some of the blacks may want to separate themselves from the white man. Speaking differently makes them unique and it greater separates the white and black barrier. After Dave shot the Mule, Jim Hawkins said, “Well, you needn’t worry about it, Bob. Just let the boy keep on working and pay me two dollars a month” (Wright). When the white plantation owner is speaking (Mr. Hawkins), he speaks in complete sentences and he pronounces his words completely. The African American’s do not like the plantation owners and they may shorten their words just to keep themselves different from the mean plantation owners.

The story gives the reader clues as to who is ranked where in social status. The African Americans tended to be on the lower level of the social status hierarchy while the white people were higher up. Dave’s conversation with his mother shows that his family is not very high up on the social status hierarchy.
-“’Whut this?’
-‘Aw, Ma.” He grabbed for it. “Gimme ma catalog, Ma.’
-‘Who yuh git it from?’
-‘From Joe, down at the sto.’
-‘Waal, thas good. We kin use it in the outhouse” (Wright).
A family that had a good amount of money would not use magazine paper as toilet paper. Dave’s family is poor and they can’t afford to buy the everyday items that many people take for granted. What the reader has to infer is why the black people are on the lower end of the social status hierarchy. The white people are the main reason for this. Black people were not considered equal and they were not given the same opportunities as the whites. Black people were forced into poverty. Blacks people not being considered equal is very obvious in the story: “Whut’s the use talkin wide m niggers in the field?...Them niggers; can’t understand nothing” (Wright). The story starts off with this statement and it shows how little respect the blacks got. The little respect toward the blacks is a direct correlation to their lack of wealth.


The story seems to have little alliances amongst the characters. These character relationships are vital to the story’s plot. Family was very important at the time of the story. Family seemed to always come first. Dave’s family may have had their disagreement but there was no doubt that the family had a close bond. The reason that Dave’s mother let him go buy the gun was to protect the family. Dave’s mother gave in to Dave when she said:
-“‘Ah’ll let yuh git tha gun ef yuh promise me one thing.’
-‘Whut’s tha, Ma?’
-‘Yuh bring it straight back t me, yuh hear? It be fer Pa’” (Wright).

Dave’s mother letting him buy the gun for the family shows that she cares about her family and that she is worried about what is best for her family. There are also white and black relationships in the story. The whites did not give the blacks much respect. It was not right but the blacks grew used to it and did not think much of the lack of respect. The black people still socialized with the whites: “There were white and black standing in the crowd. They murmured…All the crowd was laughing now” (Wright). The lack of respect was still evident but the fact that the white and black people laughed together showed that everyone understood their place in society.

Finally, The Man Who Was Almost a Man is a good story that has many lessons to teach its reader. Richard Wright put together a good piece of work that teaches lessons about everyday life by using a setting from a long time ago when things were much different. One can learn from this story that everyone is different and that it is important for people to stick together throughout life. Using reader response criticism a reader can analyze “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” using aspects of word shortening, social status, and character relationships.





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