The Man Who Almost Was A Man: Racial Criticism

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Jane Elliot once stated, “Education in this country is about how to maintain the status quo and to perpetuate racism.” Using racial criticism, The Man Who Almost Was a Man written by Richard Wright shows a lot of struggle with the main character through the use of family treatment, language, and responsibility. Dave, the main character, doesn’t feel he is respected as the man he thinks he is by both his own family and the people who work around him. Dave feels that if he can attain a gun, he then would be respected therefore being a man in his own eyes. Dave is undermined by those around him because he is both young and black. Overall, Dave tries to acquire the respect he wants however it ends up that the treatment by his family, the misunderstanding because of communication, and responsibility cause Dave to leave.

Foremost, Dave’s desire for respect is encouraged by his family’s cynicism. Dave’s mother doesn’t think of him as responsible for the money he earns. In one instance Dave’s mother expresses “Ahm keeping tha money sos yuh kin have clothes to go to school this winter” (5). Dave’s mother feels that Dave might spend the money, which he works for, on something irresponsible. Dave feels that at the age of 17 he should be able to handle his money that he works for because he is the one earning it and he would possibly get more money for handling his own accords. Dave’s father treats him as a child and is perceived as someone Dave would not want to upset. Dave’s father threatened, “Yuh wan me t take a tree n beat yuh till yuh talk!” (12).This threat shows that Dave’s father has Dave’s respect; however he does not show his son the same respect. Dave’s father disrespects Dave for being young and dumb, but not for his.

Also, the way Dave talks demonstrates the difference between the white and the black people of his town. The white people hold the power in the town he is because the white people that are presented in the story own a store or pay people to do services for them. The store owner, Joe, was white; he was the man that sold Dave the gun. The difference between Dave’s speech and Joe’s was the use of the word ‘you’. Dave said, “Ah’ll tell yuh, Mistah Joe, ef yuh promise yuh won’t tell” (2). This shows that Dave’s speech is underdeveloped because he is black which means he didn’t get the same education as a white person would. In contrast, Joe’s speech exhibits that he was educated. Joe expresses, “Say, if you wanna buy a gun, why don’t you but one from me? I gotta gun to sell” (2). Joe says the ‘you’ correctly, as well as most of the words, when he talks. Overall, there is a cultural difference just by analyzing the speech that is used in the story.

Additionally, the responsibility that is given to Dave is different then what someone else of his age would do if they were white. Dave has to attend to work and make sure that he plows the fields. Dave tells his father, “Ah plows mo lan than anybody over there” (4). Dave feels that because he works that the money he makes should only be entrusted to him. However, people doubt, because of Dave’s age, that he should be able to do certain things. For example Joe, the store owner, thinks that Dave shouldn’t have a gun. Joe declares, “You ain’t nothing but a boy. You don’t need a gun” (2). This reveals Joe doesn’t agree that Dave should have a gun. Conversely, if Joe can make a sale due to Dave’s irresponsibility then Joe will take advantage of that. This shows the power that some white people feel over those that are black within their town.

Conclusively, Dave’s action of leaving is caused by multiple things. He is not respected for his age like he believes he should be. Dave is not respected by his boss, people in his town, and his family. Dave’s dialect creates a communication barrier for people to understand him as well as he would like to be understood. Dave’s family, his language, and the responsibility he is assigned with convey a racial view.





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