Theme Of The Man Who Was Almost A Man

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In the short story “The Man Who Was Almost a Man,” Richard Wright describes how a seventeen-year-old African American boy named Dave struggles to become a man. Dave desires to be viewed as an adult, but is perceived as a boy by his family and community. He foolishly believes that he can prove he is a powerful and mature adult by owning a gun, and as a result, purchases one. However, the route Dave takes to prove he is a man reinforces everyone’s belief that he is still an adolescent. Many critics regard this piece of literature as a representation of the confinement that racial oppression created for African Americans during this time. Through this story, Wright is arguing his primary claim that the oppression Dave and other African Americans…show more content…
Understanding the time period of this narrative helps the reader fully comprehend the struggles Dave endures and how those struggles contribute to his strong desire to become a man. According to an article in the book, Short Stories for Students, “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” occurs in a rural southern community in the early years of the twentieth century. The first decades of the twentieth century were extremely difficult and sometimes even violent for African Americans in the South (Short Stories 208). The article further states the following: “Jim Crow segregation… [Kept blacks] oppressed with limited opportunities. Moreover, African-American masculinity was threatened during the time when “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” takes place, offering a useful context for Dave’s struggle for manhood and respect” (Short Stories 209). In addition, everything Dave does and experiences happens within the area between the Saunders’ home and Dave’s employer Hawkins’ large farm. Critics believe “This constricted setting suggests the limitations of Dave’s options and contributes to an atmosphere of entrapment” (Short Stories 208). The setting emphasizes the themes of rich and poor and white and black, which are evocative of the larger segregated culture (Short Stories 208). Ultimately, the time period and location of this short story stress the suppression of…show more content…
Dave has an obsession with creating a manly identity within society and believes he can do so with a gun. However, this naïve belief proves to be ironic “when firing the gun knocks him to the ground [causing] his peers to laugh at him, his father to beat him, and Hawkins to claim control over his labor for the next two years” (Short Stories 208). Throughout the plot of the story, Dave is trying to overcome social structure through owning a gun, but fails. This is because of the identity into which he was born, which was reinforced by white supremacy. Wright does an exceptional job of emphasizing to the reader that, because of the lack of opportunities white society allows Dave, he is not content with his identity and cannot create the identity he wants for himself. This identity crisis along with immaturity makes it impossible for him to possess the thought process and capabilities required to make adult decisions. This inability creates conflict and humiliation for
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