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a man who was almost a man

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“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” In the story, “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”, Dave was the main character. In the story Dave wanted to get the respect he desired. As an African American he felt inferior and no one would ever give him respect. Using racial/cultural criticism, the reader can analyze Richard Wright’s The Man Who Was Almost a Man through symbolism, setting, and dialogue.

The first aspect of racial criticism is symbolism. Throughout the story the gun is a symbol of becoming a man. During these days white fathers would take their sons out to hunt. Having a gun was like being a man. Dave figured that by owning a gun it was his first step towards becoming independent and responsible. Back then, men are supposed to be seen as tough, fearless, and respected. According to the author, Dave thought “Nobody could run over him; they would have to respect him”(6). Another symbol in the story is the Jennie the mule. In the story Dave tried to prove himself to everyone that he was ready to become a man. This is when he figured nobody could run over him because he was a man now. He went into the field and shot the mule to show his strength. After he shot her he couldn’t believe how he harmed her. “He looked in the direction of home, wanting to go back, wanting to get help” (9). Now that Dave has accomplished his goal, he was ashamed. He knew he would always have the thought in his head that he was never going to be ready to become a man.

The second aspect of racial criticism is setting. Dave lived in a rural area where there are big fields to go hunting. As one can infer there is a Mule on the field. This story takes place during the time of where blacks are not treated equally. The narrator said, “Could kill a man with a gun like this. Kill anybody, black or white” (6). This shows how Dave feels powerful that he can do whatever he wants because he owns a gun. Blacks are slaves. Whites are superior and have control over the blacks. Dave feels brave to be able to kill anybody without being white. Another example of setting is how Dave has to work hard for his money ever since he was a child. Blacks work hard to earn a dollar or two. Dave mows lawns in order to receive two dollars a month. He would hand over his money to his mother so she can have it. “’Aw, Ma, Ah done worked alla summer n ain ast yuh fer nothing, is Ah, now’” (5). Dave wants his hard earned money to be able to purchase the gun. This shows that they are poor and his mom is trying to save money.
The last aspect of racial criticism is dialogue. Throughout history blacks have been through a lot of punishment. They did not have the freedom they wanted. Dave was a slave all his life and wanted to experience manhood. He wanted to have the freedom he never had. He wanted to prove to everyone that he was a man. “’One of these days he was going to get a gun and practice shooting, and then they couldn’t talk to him as though he were a little boy”(1). The narrator shows how he is not going to be considered a little boy anymore after he starts to shoot. He was going to be able to have freedom and not be controlled by the whites. Another example of dialogue is when his mother is yelling at him that he will not own a gun. His mother still believes that he is not mature enough own one. He kept on begging her to give him the money so he can buy the gun as soon as he could. “’Now don yhu try to maka fool outta me, boy! Ef we did hava gun, yuh wouldn’t have it’” (5). His mother refers to him as boy and this makes him feel childish. He is almost an adult and he wishes that he can be seen as a man. His mother continues to bust his bubble by referring to him as a child.
In conclusion, Dave was not able to prove to anyone that he is ready to be considered a man. Everyone lost hope in him because he kept on making mistakes that showed his true self. Using racial/cultural criticism, the reader can analyze Richard Wright’s The Man Who Was Almost a Man through symbolism, setting, and dialogue. The gun made Dave realize that he was not ready at all to begin manhood. Slavery was an issue that Dave had to cooperate with living in a white society. The way Dave was treated through dialogue contributed to the story as well, his mother did not respect him how he wanted to be.





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