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The Man who was Almost a Man, written by Richard Wright is a masterpiece exploring struggles of blacks and racism in America in mid 20th Century. During this time, whites were grappling with the reality that they would probably live together with blacks for a long time. This notion did not go down well with many whites; therefore, they subjected many blacks into untold sufferings racism being one of the popular intimidation tools.
Nevertheless, the blacks had to struggle for survival and these elements stand out well in Wright’s work, The Man who was almost a Man. Writing in the 20th century, Wolfenstein notes that, “The problem of the twentieth century was the problem of color-line…” (163). Dave, the protagonist in this story faces the same problems and he has to survive.
Nevertheless, he cannot survive in a society with unequal playing grounds. To achieve the equal playing ground, Dave has to get a gun; the only way he can wield power in this unfair society. Unfortunately, he does not have the courage to handle a gun; consequently, he uses the gun for the wrong reasons and shoots a mule dead as he practices how to pull the trigger.
He has to pay for the dead mule. Wright’s work resonates well with Wolfenstein claims that, “many black Americans had pushed for equality and economic leverage since the latter half of the nineteenth century…began promoting strategies that would chip away at white dominance” (166). The only strategy that Dave has is to own a gun and that is exactly what he does.
Perspective of the Story
This story is told from an objective point of view. “With the objective point of view, the writer tells what happens without stating more than can be inferred from the story’s action and dialogue. The narrator never discloses anything about what the characters think or feel, remaining a detached observer” (Stokes Para. 4).
Moreover, conversation is a dominant element in a story told from an objective point of view. As Wright begins the story, he does not divulge a lot of information about Dave’s environment. The reader knows very little about Dave’s workmates, friends, or parents.
Wright opens the story by saying, “Dave struck out across the fields, looking homeward through paling light” (Wright Para. 1). This is too general and this is why the story fits in the objective perspective. Scholars have argued that, the reason why Wright uses this form of perspective to, “get readers to focus more on the imagery of the gun” (Everett 29).
As expected, Wright accomplished his intentions because the story revolves around this gun, which symbolizes, “power, masculinity, respect, and independence—in short, everything that Dave desperately wants” (Everett 35). This form of perspective helps to build up the central themes of this story viz. racism and survival.
On the other side, this short story is full of conversation, an element of objective point of view in literature. In the story, there are some descriptive patches here and there describing places or people; however, the greater part of the story is conversation. Wright utilizes conversation so well that the reader can envision what is happening.
For instance, “How do you do, Dave? What do you want? How are you, Mister Joe? Aw, Ah do not want to buy nothing. Ah, jus wanted to see if you would let me look at the catalog awhile, sure! You want to see it here?” Not so, ah, want to take it home with me. Ah will bring it back tomorrow when Ah come in from the fields.” This conversation makes the reader to get a picture of what is happening in Mr. Joe’s shop.
Perspective or point of view in literature is very important for it allows author to draw attention to the main points. For instance, even after Dave shoots the mule, Wright focuses on his main theme of racism by saying, “There were white and black standing in the crowd…Dave cried, seeing blurred white and black faces” (Wright Para. 45).
By doing so, Wright draws attention of readers to the issue of racism. This is why he talks of ‘white’ and ‘black’ people surrounding Dave and the dead mule. The important issue here is not the dead mule, it is the people of different colors, and this is why Wright is not concerned too much, about what happens to the dead mule as he is concerned about the ‘white’ and ‘black’ people surrounding Dave. Actually, Dave ‘cried’ for he knew the judgment that awaited him would be based on ‘racial’ sentiments.
Tone of the Story
Wright applies the element of tone richly, “Tone is a literary technique that is a part of composition, which encompasses the attitudes toward the subject and toward the audience implied in a literary work” (Stokes Para. 6). The tone of this story is somber and condescending. Dave is somber as he comes out of the fields. He says, “What’s the use of talking with them niggers in the field” (Wright Para. 1). This statement paints a picture of a dull Dave.
He is not happy and that is why he does not see the need of arguing with the rest of his workmates. He knows the argument is futile and it will not solve the racism problem that they have in this place because argument does not translate to power; a gun does. After burying the mule, Dave goes out that night to practice shooting.
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As he approaches Mr. Hawkins’ house he murmurs, “If Ah had just one mo bullet I would take a shot at the house. I would like to scare that old man Hawkins just a little… Just enough to let him know Dave Saunders is a man” (Wright Para. 69). This tone is not a tone of a happy man; no, it is a tone of a dull person ready to prove his point and manhood.
As aforementioned, the tone is also condescending. After Mr. Saunders realizes that Dave has a gun and that, the mule died of a gunshot, he patronizes over Dave. Mrs. Saunders follows suit and accuses Dave of killing the mule using the gun she had funded to purchase. Mr. Saunders says, “You wan me to take a tree n beat you till you talk” (Wright Para. 75). This is very patronizing; simply because Dave is the inferior party, everyone around here can threaten him.
The somber and condescending tone used here helps to achieve the theme of survival as a member of a minority group. Interestingly, even other members of the minority group work in concert with those in power to intimidate one of their own. Dave’s parents back Hawkins and they accuse their son. If Mrs. Saunders did not raise the issue of money she had given Dave two nights ago, no one would have ever known or imagined Dave killed the mule.
Racism and black’s struggles were pertinent issues in American society in mid 20th century. Wright experienced these struggles and this story is a chronicle of personal experiences. After a long time of intimidation and oppression, Dave cannot take it anymore and he decides to prove his manhood by getting a gun. Unfortunately, he does not know how to aim and pull the trigger; therefore, he ends up shooting Jenny, a mule.
Two literal elements stand out clearly in this story, perspective, and tone. Wright uses objective point of view, as he does not care much about what surrounds Dave; he is only interested in bringing out the theme of racism and survival. He uses a lot of conversation and this helps to build on his themes. The tone in this story plays the same role of building the themes of racism and survival. The tone here is somber and condescending to emphasize how grave racism was during those times.
Everett, Mildred. “The Death of Richard Wright’s American Dream: ‘The Man Who Lived Underground.’ “CLA Journal, 1974. 17(2): 318-26.
Stokes, Suzanne. “Literature Elements.” 2006. Web.
Wolfenstein, Eugene. “Race, Racism, and Racial Liberation.” The Western Political Quarterly, 1977. Web.
Wright, Richard. “A Man who almost Became a Man.” N.d. Web.