“There were white and black standing in the crowd. They murmured”(Wright 9). This quote does not paint a pretty picture. In the Deep South, a black boy could not claim his manhood as easily a white boy. In “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” Richard Wright does a great job of showing the racial difference between white and black. This story is about a black boy who turns seventeen and believes he needs a gun to prove his manhood. Once his mother agrees to let him get a gun, not for his use but his fathers, he disobeys and accidentally shoots a mule. He is then looked down upon by the rest of the town. As a racial critic it is easy to see the author uses language, setting, and character relationships to show that becoming a man was as simple as getting a gun for a white boy, but much more complicated for a black population.
To begin with, Wright uses perfect dialogue to show how looked down upon African Americans were during that time period. Throughout the story there are many misspelled and shortened words. Having the text in the story like this made Dave seem very dumb and uneducated. An example is “’Ma, ef yuh lemme buy one Ah’ll never ast yuh fer nothing no mo’” (5). When the author combines words such as lemme instead of saying let me, it makes the reader feel as if Dave is uneducated. Throughout the story, the dialogues of the white men talking are nothing like those of the African Americans. When the white men talk they sound very educated and smart. They have proper grammar. The misspelling of the words, like ast instead of asked; reinforce the idea that Dave is uneducated. During that time period blacks did not have the privilege of getting an education like whites did. So in other words, it is not really Dave’s fault he talks like that way. The quote does show why it may be harder for people to believe he is a man. An uneducated and inexperienced boy should not be trusted with a gun because he may do something stupid. Also, throughout the story many people call Dave a boy instead of a man. When Dave asked his mother to give him money to buy a gun she was not happy. She said, “’Ah don care whut Ah promised! Yuh ain nothing but a boy yit’” (5). Dave is upset because he believes he is capable of owning a gun because he is more responsible. The people in his life think otherwise. The way his family and others around him call him boy shows the reader that he is not ready to have a gun yet. It leads into the ending where he didn’t know how to properly use the gun, and ended up shooting a mule that should not have been shot. Dave obviously was not ready to become a man. His mother believed he was still too irresponsible and he was. He couldn’t just bring the gun home to his mom. He had to shoot it. Dave was only doubted so much by the people around him because he was black. A white boy during that time period would have had no problem getting or shooting a gun.
Continuing on, Wright does a great job of using the setting to show that blacks did not become men as easily as whites. He does this by showing how judgmental the whites were of Dave after he shot the mule. “The crowd surged in, looking at him. He jammed his hands into his pockets, shook his head slowly from left to right, and backed away. His eyes were wide and painful” (9). The picture the reader gets in their mind from this scene is very strong. Dave knew he had done something wrong and tried to cover it up. Once his mother and father began questioning him about what had happened, the rest of the group got involved. The stares from the crowd showed that the whites were looking down upon Dave. They believed they were better than him and they were smarter than him. They wouldn’t have done something as stupid as to shoot a mule. During this period in history, it was all about social status. Dave had to work so hard to become a man, and now that he made a mistake, it is like he took five steps back. Towards the end of the story it says how Dave really wants to shoot at Hawkins house. Dave feels as if Hawkins thinks he is superior to him and that Hawkins doesn’t believe he is a man. “’Lawd, ef Ah had just one mo bullet Ah’d taka shot at tha house. Ah’d like t scare ol man Hawkins jusa little…Jusa enough t let im know Dave Saunders is a man’” (11). Dave is still stuck on the idea that a gun is the only way to prove he is a man. This quote really explains what extent Dave has to go through or believed he had to go through to become an adult. He wanted to show Hawkins off because Hawkins is a white man who only thinks of him as a boy. It is crazy to think that someone would have to prove manhood by shooting at someone. Manhood is not about who gets the first kill. It is about growing up and becoming responsible.
Lastly, the character relationships in the story prove why Dave had to prove so much to become a man. The relationship between Dave and his parents shows how they laugh at his dreams of becoming a man. “’Whut yu wan wida gun, Dave? Yuh don need no gun. Yuh’ll git in trouble N ef yo pa jus thought Ah let yuh have money t buy a gun he’d hava fit’” (5). “’Ah tol yuh t git outta here! Yuh ain gonna toucha penny of tha money fer no gun! Thas how come Ah has Mistah Hawkins t pay yo wages t me, cause Ah knows yuh ain got no sense’” (5). Both of these quotes show that Dave’s parents do not believe he has transitioned into manhood. His mom didn’t even trust him enough to get his own pay. It is pretty much impossible for Dave to fulfill his dreams if he doesn’t even have his parents backing him up. The oppression from his parents only keeps knocking him down. The white-black relationship between Mr. Joe and Dave while Dave was at the store shows how people continually made it impossible for Dave to become a man. When Dave came into the store he had a conversation with Joe. Their relationship is a really good example of how a white man looks down on a black kid. “’Your ma lettin you have your own money now’” (1). “’Shucks. Mistah Joe, Ahm gittin t be a man like anybody else!’” (1). During this conversation, Joe seems to mock Dave about his mother giving him his own money. It was known around town how Dave’s mother was not very trusting in her son. Others in the town used it as a remark that continued to just bring Dave down. That would not have happened to a white boy during the time. Because of Dave’s weak relationships with his family and the people around him, it was much harder for him to become a man.
All in all, as a racial critic, it can be seen that in “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” that black boys are not able to become men as easily as whites. This story does a good job showing people what the south is like and how discriminated against blacks were. Wright uses dialogue, setting, and character relationships to show the reader the extent of this discrimination. In many parts of the country today there is still a lot of racism. This story will hopefully open people’s eyes to see what discrimination African Americans had to go through, hopefully enough to eventually end racism.
Wright, Richard. “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”