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Written by Richard Wright, “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” is a story that focuses on an African-American farmer who strives to survive the racial frictions in Southern America. This paper analyzes Wright’s method of presenting the thematic characteristics of the story. Wright exposes the positions and conditions of the story’s characters through their dialogs and expressions. Without stating his opinion, Richard Wright engages the reader in the story and transfers his messages through dialogs and narratives. Wright’s story makes it evident that dialogs between a story’s characters expose the thematic characteristics of the narrative. He defines true masculinity by presenting the importance of self-recognition. The subsequent section provides evidence of Wright’s use of dialogs to express struggle, family interaction, and racial differences.
Wright’s Use of Character Interaction to Promote Themes
The author uses dialogs between his characters to expose the struggle in David Saunders’ household. Wright expresses struggle when David Saunders’ mother says “Waal that’s good. We kin use it in the outhouse” (879). David’s family was living under poor conditions and they found it difficult to meet basic needs. This made them improvise to meet their supplies. Wright used David’s mother’s discussion to expose the family’s low financial position. The poor financial condition of David’s family is further highlighted when David is not allowed to handle his finances. Wright uses a narrative to hint this by explaining that “She stooped, turned slightly to one side, [and] raised the hem of her dress. Rolled down the top of her stocking and came up with a slender wad of bill” (880). Although David feels emasculated by this gesture, his mother explains how important every penny is.
Wright also uses dialogs and descriptions to depict family relationship. David’s father daunts and bullies him and this is shown when Wright explains that David could not discuss financial needs with his father instead, he cornered his mother “when she was alone” (882). The passage shows how David was emasculated by his father’s presence. Although David’s mother was more approachable, it was not guaranteed that his mother would support him financially. At a point, David seeks to purchase a gun to prove his masculinity but his mother explains that he “ain ganna toucha penny of tha money fer no gun! That’s how come Ah has Mistah Hawkins to pay me, cause Ah knows yuh ain got no sense” (882).
Wright uses the dialogs and interactions between the characters to display the social role of racism on the setting of the story. The story demonstrates that the racial interaction between blacks and whites were not characterized by equity. Wright shows this when he describes the way David approached a white man’s store. Wright states that David was “confident until he saw fat Joe walk in through the rear door, then his courage began to ooze” (883). The sudden shift in David’s persona, when he realizes the shop’s owner is white, clarifies the racism in Wright’s social setting.
Wright’s inclusion of this scene in the story informs the reader of the presence of intimidation due to racial diversity. David’s mission in the story is to prove his masculinity to everybody around him and he intends to achieve this by owning a gun. According to Wright, David expresses his yearning to be in control when he says “Laed, ef Ah had just one mo bullet Ah’d taka shot at tha house. Ah’d like t scare ol man Hawkins jusa little… Jusa enough t let im know Dave Saunders is a man” (886). David believes that a gun will make him masculine and his statement shows that his boss suppressed him.
This paper highlighted the use of dialogs and descriptions for the depiction of the characters’ dispositions and social settings. The paper focused on how Richard Wright used dialogs and narratives to reveal the social and economic issues characteristic to the era of “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”. Many significant themes can be identified in “The Man Who Was Almost a Man.” The author used his short story to explain the need for people to be confident and aware of their value to society. David Saunders, the story’s main character, suffered to realize his worth, mission, and ambition. Richard Wright’s “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” contributes to literature by exposing the consequences of racial diversity in Southern America. The story helps people understand the need to identify their potential and acknowledge their roles in society. Wright shows that the only path to achieving confidence is through self-realization. David Saunders purchases a gun to boost his masculinity but he ends up getting into trouble and running from his troubles. Richard Wright uses his story to show that self-recognition is a beginning of a successful life. The author’s writing style is excellent because he integrates his message in an interesting and intriguing story line. David’s social interactions are used to propagate the significance of self-recognition in society.
The problem raised in the short story is not new – quite on the contrary, they have been addressed a number of times by a variety of authors. In his poem Richard Cory Edwin A. Robinson touches upon a similar issue by rendering the story of a wealthy man, who, despite his financial wellbeing, still remains miserable and feels incomplete. Unlike the short story discussed above, the poem has only one character; however, Robinson still makes his character compelling enough to prompt the development of the key themes of the poem, the issue of wealth being the focal point of it.
It is quite remarkable that the author manages to render both the key themes and the emotions of the character without creating any dialogue in the poem. More importantly, there is not a sign of a monologue in it, either. Particularly, there is a single line that the character utters, “Good morning” (Robinson line 8). While being completely innocent in its traditional rendition, the greeting adds a rather somber tone to the overall impression in the context of the poem. At first glance, the above-mentioned line appears to be rather upbeat and positive, as the lead character “fluttered pulses” (Robinson line 7) whenever he pronounced it. However, the commonplace and superficial tone, which it bears in the poem, does not sit well with the impression of wellbeing and happiness, which the author creates at the very start of the poem. The punch line, which the poem ends with, allows the reader to view the scenario created by Robinson in a very dark way: “And Richard Cory, one calm summer night/ Went home and put a bullet through his head” (Robinson lines 15–16).
The central theme of the poem, in its turn, echoes with the one that The Man Who Was Almost a Man created. The lead characters of the short story and the poem have major differences in terms of their financial problems and personal misery, David being emotionally stifled by his family and the owner of the store that he works in. However, unlike David, who has to deal with his financial woes inflicted on him by specific people, Richard Cory has only himself and the hypocritical society to blame. Indeed, the poem also obviously renders the issue of money and the lack of emotional engagement of other people into the life of the protagonist; however, in Richard Cory’s case, he has literally nowhere to escape, as every single person, whom he communicates with, treats him in the same manner due to his wealth: “In fine, we thought that he was everything/To make us wish that we were in his place” (Robinson line 12). Therefore, in some ways, Richard Cory is even more miserable than David, despite the fact that both are as far apart from each other on the social scale as possible, the two, in fact, share the same emotional scars, which the society has given them.
It should be noted that the theme of financial difficulties, though being rendered by both authors with equal depth, is handled by Robinson from a slightly different perspective. In Richard Cory the issue of dependency on one’s financial status, which both the short story and the poem render, is addressed from the perspective of hopelessness, whereas in the short story, the struggle with the environment, which David was trapped in, could be seen clearly. Richard Cory, in his turn, seems to have resigned himself to the idea of joyless and quite pointless life, which finally brings him to the fatal decision to commit a suicide. The short story, therefore, can be viewed as far more somber, though, perhaps, less realistic than the short story. Richard Cory shows the depth of despair that one may sink in when one’s financial status defines not only the lifestyle, but also the attitude of others towards the person in question.
Apart from the theme of financial issues, Richard Cory, much like The Man Who Was Almost a Man, also taps on several essential social issues. As it has been stressed above, the attitude of the society towards people of a certain financial status serves as a major factor of distress, causing the people that are somehow dependent on their finances to become alienated from the rest of the society to the point where they may be ostracized. Although the latter does not seem to be the case with Richard Cory, the lack of investment into his life and his emotions, which the people, whom he communicates with, display, creates the tension that finally resolves itself in the tragic accident.
Despite the fact that The Man Who Was Almost a Man, a short story by Richard Wright, and Richard Cory, a poem by Edwin A. Robinson, have different settings and a different number of characters, as well as the fact that the lead characters in the novel and the poem can be viewed as the exact opposite of each other, both have several elements in common. The theme of financial dependency and prejudice based on social makes the characters from both the novel and the poem tragic, memorable and relatable.
Robinson, Edwin A. Richard Cory. 1897. Web.
Wright, Richard. “The Man Who Was Almost a Man.” The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford, 2011. 878-87. Print.