Wright’s Rite of Passage
In Richard Wright’s “The Man Who Was Almost A Man” the ideas of a young African American man’s coming of age is explored in the early twentieth century. In this short story our protagonist Dave struggles with the true definition of manhood and the rite of passage in rural southern America. He acts in ways that “ suggested a challenge to ideas of manhood”(Fine) by others in the community that he misguidedly finds fitting.
This short story is loosely a take on traditional rites of passages from european or Native cultures, in the sense that the young man must exert a fatal act on another being or animal as a part of the initiation into manhood. “For a people living in a new unsettled land, variations on the archetype of the young hero who achieves manhood by hunting and slaying a wild beast came early and naturally as a literary theme.”(Loftis 437) Dave is the young man of focus who is in adolescence and eager to act and have symbols of his Idea of manhood. Dave states: “Ahm seventeen. Almost a man”(Wright 899) and he believes that if he were to obtain a gun “they [other workers] couldn’t talk to him as though he were a little boy.” In the text, it is evident that Dave believes owning this symbol of masculinity will turn him into what he believes is a man.
Unfortunately for Dave he does not have a strong male model to guide him to manhood. “Initiations occur within personal, social, and literary contexts”(Loftis 438);in the text
there are no apparent forms of any type of initiation involving the coming of age for Dave.He has many male figures around him, but none of them seem to offer much of an influence or act as a role model for him. Being that Dave lacks any “adult male models for defining adultho...
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...ed the dominants to mature. “ Dave’s society is one dominated by whites who refuse to allow any black male to truly mature, and Dave must symbolically kill his domination before he is free to grow up.” (Loftis 442) In the night after killing Jenny he goes back to prove to himself he can fire the gun successfully. Asserting his manhood, Dave now has the confidence to throw his childhood, community, and family aside and go “away, away to somewhere, somewhere where he could be a man…” (Wright 907)
“Wright’s child-man… lacks the familial and cultural mechanisms and personal supports that make growing up a natural journey with identifiable milestones.”(Loftis 442) Dave’s errors jaulted him into becoming more self confident and aware, giving himself his own initiation into adulthood. Dave, through the text, is a mere child that transforms into a self-proclaimed man.
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