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A Racial/Cultural Critique of The Man Who Was Almost a Man

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“Could kill a man with a gun like this. Kill anybody, black or white” (Wright). Richard Wright was a controversial African-American writer. Most of his literature is concerned with racial theme, especially lives of African-Americans. (Duffus) The Man Who Was Almost a Man is a story of a seventeen year old black boy struggling with the idea of power and respect. His belief is that a gun will provide him with enough authority to feel respected by fellow community members. What he doesn’t realize is that respect cannot be bought, rather earned, and him being an African-American gives him less rights to be respected in the time period. Using racial/cultural criticism, the reader can analyze Richard Wright’s The Man Who Was Almost a Man through dialogue, setting, and black – white character relationships.
First, the cultural aspect of the story can be seen through the dialogue that Dave uses. Dave has poor usage of correct pronunciations: “Ahm ol enough to hava gun” (Wright). Dave does not use proper grammar, and he often shortens or combines the words. This makes him seem uneducated. The story taking place in the 1940-1950’s explains why an African-American is uneducated at the age of 17, since the civil rights movement was not in effect yet. Dave depends on slang to talk, “Shucks, ah ain scareda them even ef they are biggem me!” (Wright). Dave often uses slang to get his message across. He is not very educated, pointing to the lower social class and status. He isn’t properly thaught how to pronounce words, because he never had the opportunity to experience schooling.
Next, the setting provides a big insight on the social status of Dave’s family. They are poor, and are doing everything in their power to keep their family socially stable. Although they are poor, his mother is still considering Dave’s social status: “ Ahm keeping tha money sos yoh kin cloes t go to school this winter” (Wright). Dave’s mother is concerned with providing Dave with proper education, so he can achieve a higher social status. Being an educated African-American would allow Dave to get more opportunities in his future. Dave’s family is not used to the good things in life, “We kin use it in the outhouse” (Wright). When Dave brings back a gun catalog to the house, his mother wants to use is as toilet paper. The family has no idea of any luxury, or amenities that wealthier people are able to experience. This shows the cultural status of African-Americans in this time period.
Last but not least, Dave is very respectful to the white store owner, while the white store owner doesn’t seem to care about Dave’s social status at all. Dave is aware that because of his race he is treated differently, and he chooses to accept it. He has no confidence once the white store owner enters, “He felt very confident until he saw fat Joe walk in through the rear door, then his courage began to ooze” (Wright). This shows that because Joe is white, he shares an unequal relationship with Dave. Dave fears the white store owner because he knows that as a white male, Joe has more rights than Dave. Dave formally identifies the store owner: “How yuh Mistah Joe?” (Wright). Dave formally identifies the store owner while the store owner informally identifies Dave. This shows the racial tension in between the two characters, and how race affects their relationship.
Using racial/cultural criticism, the reader can analyze Richard Wright’s The Man Who Was Almost a Man through dialogue, setting, and black – white character relationships. Wright wrote about controversial issues such as race, and how those of a different race get treated on everyday basis. Due to his great understanding of literature, he allowed for African-Americans to feel motivated during their plight. The Man Who Was Almost a Man shows the struggle of any minority, and how the sense of power and respect might drive people to do things that are often against their regular rules and beliefs.





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