Richard White’s short story, “The Man Who Was Almost a Man,” portrays the internal struggles of a yearning for power and manhood while also shedding light on the inherent immaturity that accompanies such a forced desire. The protagonist, Dave Saunders, is an African-American teenager struggling with his desires to be viewed as a man. He works as a field hand for Mr. Hawkins and is teased by the older men who work alongside him. Such ridicule drives Dave to buy a gun after convincing his mother that they “needa gun in the house.” Against his mother’s demands that he “bring it straight back t me,” Dave purchases the gun, straps it to his leg and heads out to a faraway field with Mr. Hawkins’ mule, Jenny, and a plow. Upon reaching the field, Dave’s inexperience with firing a gun leads him to accidentally shooting Jenny. Dave’s immaturity truly surfaces when he attempts to lie to cover up his accident. After finally telling the truth, it is determined that Mr. Hawkins will keep $2 of Dave’s pay every month until the mule is paid for. At this point, Dave feels “hurt” because of the snickers he received from the crowd that gathered after he shot Jenny. His embarrassment and goal of “becoming a man” leads him to jump on a train that night, a train headed “somewhere, somewhere where he could be a man.” Wright’s portrayal of Dave Saunders, his actions and his blind struggle to be perceived as a respectable man argue his central idea that maturity and respect are self-attained and that the forced quest for such things inherently reveals one’s immaturity and ignorance.
Throughout the story, Dave Saunders attempts a feeble and arrogant pursuit of manhood while also revealing the innate childishness that accompanies such a quest. As the story begins with Dave being taunted by his fellow field-workers, readers are presented with the first sign of his brash and uninformed mentality when he says, “One of these days he was going to get a gun and practice shooting, then they...
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