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The Man Who Was Almost A Man

By , Oak Lawn, IL
What does it mean to be a man? This question has been pondered by men since the beginning of history. Every culture has their own unique rites of passage which signify the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. Everyone man, regardless of ethnicity or background, wants to be thought of as a man in the eyes of society. It is even more important, however, for a man to see himself as a man. In Richard Wright’s The Man Who Was Almost a Man, a seventeen year-old, African-American boy named Dave struggles to get his family to think of him as a man. He comes up with a plan to buy a gun because in his mind everyone will respect him if he owns a one. Dave’s plan ultimately backfires however, and he only succeeds in proving that he is not ready to handle the responsibility. Using Racial Criticism, the reader can analyze Richard Wright’s The Man Who Was Almost a Man through dialogue, cultural aspects, and character relationships. The dialogue and the cultural aspects of the story give insight into the experiences of African-Americans during the early 1900’s. In addition, an examination of the character relationships shows how Dave is thought of by his peers and why he is so eager to prove that he is a man.
The dialogue in the story shows the reader the exact dialect that the characters use. Dave and his family pronounce many of their words different from the conventional diction. For example, when Dave talks to the store owner he says,”How yuh, Mistah Joe? Aw, Ah don wanna buy nothing. Ah jus wanted t see ef yuhd lemme look at the catlog erwhile” (1). Later when Dave asks his mother to let him buy a gun he says,” Aw, Ma, Ah done worked hard alla summer n ain ast yuh fer nothin…” (3). This reflects how African Americans in the South would often not have access to the best education. This was usually because they could not afford to go to school and would spend most of their time working. This would have been the case with all low-income families regardless of race however.
Culturally, the story reflects the importance that was placed on owning a gun. For many of this time period, owning a gun was considered a rite of passage signaling the transition from kid to adult. Dave expresses this view when he says, “Shucks, a man oughta hava little gun aftah he done worked hard all day” (1). In addition, the story showcases the structure of a typical African American home. The father served as the head of the household and main provider for the family. He was also the primary issuer of discipline towards the children. This is shown after Dave accidentally shoots his boss’s mule and Dave thinks to himself, “’N Pa says he’s gonna beat me’…He remembered other beatings, and his back quivered” (7). Dave has both respect and fear of his father because he knows that his father is in charge and has the final say in every decision. At seventeen, all that Dave wants is to be able to make his own decisions and be respected like his father is.
Unfortunately for Dave, neither his peers nor his family take him seriously, they do not view him as a man. Joe the store keeper jokes about Dave needing permission from his mother to spend the money that he earned working in the fields. “Your ma letting you have your own money now?” (1). His mother says that he is not responsible enough to own a gun. “Whut yu wan wida gun, Dave? Yuh don need no gun. Yuh’ll git in trouble” (4). The other field workers didn’t take Dave seriously and treated him like a kid. Dave wants to buy a gun because to him it represents respect and responsibility. If Dave had a gun he would consider himself as a force to be reckoned with, the other men would have to respect him because he could kill them if he wanted to, though it is never his intention to do so. Dave merely wants to feel like he is in control of something for once in his life. In addition, the responsibility that goes along with owning a firearm, such as knowing how to fire it properly and making sure that the weapon is not misused, will prove to everyone that he is old enough to take care of himself. Dave learns the hard way however, that he is not ready to own a gun and is not responsible enough to be a real man yet.
The Man Who Was Almost a Man shows the reader the difficulty that can occur when a boy is trying to convince others that he has grown up. The dialogue and cultural aspects give the reader a window into this time period and show what life was like for African-Americans in the South at the time. Meanwhile, the character relationships show why Dave is so eager to prove himself. Dave thought that if he owned a gun he would automatically become a man. Ultimately however, one of the main aspects of being a real man is being able to act responsibly and realize that everything decision you make has consequences for other people.





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