The Man Who Was Almost a Man

November 9, 2011
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“Could kill a man with a gun like this. Kill anybody, black or white. And if he were holding his gun in his hand, nobody could run over him; they would have to respect him.” This quote is from a story called The Man Who Thought He Was a Man. It was written by an American author named Richard Wright. He was born in 1908 in Roxie Mississippi (Richard Wright). This story is about a boy named Dave who wanted to own his own gun because he thought it would make him a man. He begs his mother for the gun and when she finally lets him get it, she makes him promise to bring it right home. Instead, Dave brings the gun out to a field where he accidently kills the mule of a man he works for. He gets in trouble for it and realizes he was too young to own a gun in the first place. Using racial/cultural criticism, readers can analyze The Man Who Was Almost a Man through character, dialogue, and symbol.
The first way that a reader can analyze this story is through the use of character. Dave is the main character in this story and also the main source of examples of racial/cultural instances. The first example would be when the author says, “Them niggers; can’t understand nothing” (1). This shows that Dave has no problem referring to other black men as niggers. In this time period, African Americans were probably very used to being referred to in this way. This statement also shows that Dave is very uneducated because he uses poor grammar. Another example of character in the story would be when the author writes, “Your ma lettin you have your own money now?” (1). When the storekeeper says this to Dave, it is clear that Dave’s mother keeping his own money from him is no surprise. In the African American culture at this time, it wasn’t strange for the mother of the household to handle the finances. It also shows that she didn’t think Dave was responsible enough to handle his own money yet. Dave himself also accepts that his mother is in charge of his hard earned money because he is constantly afraid that his mother will say no to him having the gun. There are many examples of racial/cultural characteristics in this story.
Next, there are many examples of dialogue that can be used to analyze this story through racial/cultural criticism. First, the author writes, “You ain’t nothing but a boy. You don’t need a gun” (2). The storekeeper says this to Dave, indicating that he shouldn’t have a gun because he isn’t a man. This is perhaps what drove Dave to want the gun even more. Also, this sentence shows that in Joe’s opinion as well as Dave’s, owning a gun is the responsibility of a man. This says a lot about not only African American culture in this time, but American culture as well. Next, Dave says, “But Ma, please. It ain mine! It’s Joe’s! He tol me t bring it back t im termorrow” (3) This sentence sort of shows the desperation in Dave’s tone. He is pleading with his mother not to do anything with the catalogue because it is his only means of obtaining a gun. He knows that in order to get the gun, he must bring the catalogue back to Joe so that he can order it. This really shows that Dave is convinced that the only way he will feel right about himself is if he gets a gun. He feels as though he will become a man this way. There is a lot of dialogue present in this story that can be used to analyze it.
Lastly, a reader can use symbol to analyze this story through racial/cultural criticism. Dave’s mother says to him, “Ah don care whut Ah promised! Yuh ain nothing but a boy yit!” (5). This sentence shows that both Dave and his mother think of the gun and Dave’s manhood as interchangeable. Therefore, the gun in this story is a symbol of manhood. What Dave’s mother is basically saying is that he doesn’t need a gun, because he is a boy. If he were a man, he would need a gun. That is why Dave associates having a gun with being a man. When Dave accidently shoots Jenny, Mr. Hawkins’ mule, he says, “Ah wuzn shoot at the mule, Mistah Hawkins. The gun jumped when Ah pulled the trigger… N fo Ah knowed anythin Jenny was there a-bleedin” (11). The fact that Dave is so upset by his actions and that he was so clueless to them, shows that he really isn’t a man at all. This is when those surrounding him realize that he should never have had a gun in the first place. Once again, Dave and the people in his town associate the owning of a gun with the responsibility of manhood. Without a doubt though, when Dave proves himself as a man, he will be rewarded with a gun because that is how his society works. The gun in this story is definitely a symbol of being a man.
In conclusion, someone reading this story can analyze it through racial/cultural criticism by using character, dialogue, and symbol. While this story has a respectable moral, it more importantly has many racial and cultural aspects as well. The Man Who Was Almost a Man is a great portrayal of what life was like for African Americans in that specific time period.





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