The Man Who Was Almost a Man by Richard Wright
Becoming a man takes great responsibility and patience. In “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” by Richard Wright, Dave was not ready to own a gun when he had so many things to prove first. Through language, he showed impatience and childish dialogue. His mother allowed him to get away with having the gun, but Mr.
Hawkins wanted to teach him a lesson in what he did. His surroundings also seemed to be a part of the problem of why he was still acting like a child. But the African American repression and stereotype held him back from his true realization as a man. Through these three elements, it’ll be shown that Dave was not ready to own his own gun. The language throughout the story is a main highlight on why Dave had not truly grown into a man. His mother, although with good intentions, gave him permission to buy the gun, trusting him to bring it back to her so that it could be given to his father.
But, only through begging to his mother first was he allowed to. “But Ma, Ah wans a gun. Yuh kin lemme have two dollahs outta mah money. Please, Ma. I kin give it to Pa… Please, Ma! Ah loves yuh, Ma” (Wright 1). Dave sucked up to his mother, practically begging him to buy his own gun.
He didn’t listen to his mother and wait, nor did he attempt to work more and save up for the gun himself, something a real man would’ve done. This behavior can be interpreted as an example of African Americans who didn’t receive a good education like the white people did back then. He wasn’t able to fully mature and understand that how he was acting was completely childish, a lesson most students learn when they enter high school. When he shot Jenny, he decided to lie then tell the truth to Mr. Hawkins and his parents, all in an attempt to not be humiliated or get into trouble.
“‘Waal,’ he drawled. ‘Ah brung ol Jenny down here sos; Ah could do mah plowin. Ah plowed bout two rows, just like yuh see.'” Although him shooting Jenny was an accident, he acted like a child in the situation, and instead of being mature, lied blindly to the crowd. The characters showed different ways in helping Dave become a man.
His mother once more had fault in the situation, and allowed him to get away with his adolescent acts. “Yuh bring it straight back t me, yuh hear? It be fer Pa” (6). His mother trusted him far too easily, and later in the night, didn’t demand the gun from him like she should have. In the end, it seemed as though she treated him like a child as well, letting his begging for the gun be tolerated, when it should’ve been the complete opposite. This is another prime example of African American schooling, and how they weren’t given full privileges unlike the white students. His mother was probably not taught as well how to deal with situations like that.
This is a stereotype as well, although a true one, that African American mothers do baby their children, even at an adult age like Dave. In contrast, the only real character that knew to treat him like an adult when Jenny had been shot was Mr. Hawkins. “Well, looks like you have bought you bought you a mule, Dave” (10). With the death of his mule, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to teach Dave a lesson and have him work for the money to buy Mr. Hawkins a new mule.
He was going to make him pay for his consequences, and Dave in return wanted to shoot inside his house to scare him, a sign of rebellion, just another one of his juvenile traits. But even still, Mr. Hawkins laughed along with the rest of the crowd. If it was a young white man who shot Jenny, the outcome would’ve been the exact opposite, leaving Dave with even more humiliation for his mistake. The setting he lived in appeared rough, and just another one of his problems.
“Can’t yuh hear? Why don yuh lissen? Ah ast yu how wuz yuh n ol man Hawkins gittin erlong?” (4). Dave’s father seemed to be a rigid man and gave Dave a hard time for most things. His strictness might’ve been a reason for Dave to run away, although it seemed as though it was just a way to discipline him. Dave’s father no doubt had a rough time growing up as an African American child into an adult, a reason for his rigid nature towards his son. Later on when he saw the train, it’s obvious Dave saw it as an easy way out of his tough life.
“Ahead the long rails were glinting in the moonlight, stretching away, away to somewhere, somewhere where he could be a man…” (12). Unlike a man who would face his problems and responsibilities head on, Dave saw this as an escape so he could do and be whatever he wanted. Simply ignoring and running away doesn’t prove manhood, but paying for your mistakes does. Dave most likely knew that with the repression and segregation in his hometown, he would never be able to find a way to be a man there, and instead decided to travel and find his own path. Through dialogue, characters, and setting, it’s obvious that Dave was not ready to have his own gun. His dialogue was childish, the characters of the story only pushed him farther away from his manhood, and the setting was rough on him.
But carried with these heavy burdens he had to face was his black skin that made everything much harder for him. Even still, to prove you’re a man, you first have to prove to yourself, as well as everyone around you that you’re responsible and trustworthy. Possessions don’t assert these qualities.