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“The Man Who Was Almost a Man” Essay


The Man Who Was Almost a Man is a psychological, economical, moral, and social age development story from childhood to manhood by Richard Wright. The story chronicles the growth story of Dave, the protagonist, from his childhood to manhood. The story describes the experiences that the young man undergoes while trying to prove his manhood. Dave tries to seek respect, recognition, and honor from the people around him after feeling limited, confined, and caged in the childhood category. He finds a way to gain manhood respect by proving to the people that he is no longer a child. This paper will highlight the psychological, social, moral, and economic age growth of the protagonist and the experiences that make him recognize his actual position of growth.

Coming of age

Dave, a seventeen- year- old young man, decides to seek power and respect that he feels he deserves as a proof of his adulthood. He plans to visit the local guns store with the hope that his mother will allow him to own a gun through his hard-earned cash from working in Mr. Hawkins’ fields. Dave visits Joe, the shopkeeper, but at first, his courage to ask for the gun drains. Nevertheless, he finally manages to convince Joe to lend him a catalog overnight (Wright 2).

Fortunately, Dave manages to secure an old gun of 2 dollars, which he carries home in the late dark evening. On his arrival at home, Mrs. Saunders, his mother, notices the catalog with his son. Dave manages to convince her mother that the family needs a gun. During supper, Dave becomes uncomfortable with his young brother and father’s presence and decides to ask for gun money from his mother instead of the father. Dave confirms from the mother whether his boss, Mr. Hawkins, has paid for his work in the field in order to use the money to purchase the gun. However, the mother states that the money can only be used for better things like education as opposed to funding a silly idea like owning a gun.

Nevertheless, Dave manages to secure two dollars from his mom to purchase the gun, but under one condition that he would directly hand it to her after the purchase. After Dave purchases the gun, he walks around the fields feeling secure, but under great fear on how to use it. He decides to wait for the darkness, as he would feel more comfortable to carry it when everyone is asleep. On his arrival at home, Dave puts the gun under his pillow instead of giving it to his mother as agreed earlier (Wright 7).

During the night, the mother confronts Dave and demands to be given the gun; however, Dave lies that he left it outside and thus he can only retrieve it in the morning. In the morning, Dave retrieves his gun and immediately he holds it, a sense of being powerful engulfs his body. He now feels that he has the power to do as he wills. Therefore, he decides to carry it to the fields. He accidentally collides with Mr. Hawkins, but he lies that he wants to start his work in the field.

By chance, Dave meets Jenny and head to the furthest end of the fields so that no one can hear gunshots. He studies his gun masterfully with wonderment, before gathering the guts to pull the trigger. Unfortunately, he aims wrongly and mistakenly shoots Jenny who bleeds to death. In confusion, he hides the gun in a place that it cannot be discovered easily. He plans to make up a believable story about Jenny’s death to his boss.

Jenny’s body is found to have gun wounds, but Dave lies that she tripped and fell awkwardly before succumbing to her injuries. Unfortunately, under pressure, her mother urges him to tell the truth whereby he agrees amidst tears. His father is shocked to realize that his son owns a gun with her mother’s consent (Wright 14). Apparently, Dave has to pay 50 dollars for the loss of Jenny. Therefore, two dollars would be deducted from Dave’s earnings monthly.

When pushed to surrender the gun, Dave declares that the gun is gone by the waters as he tossed it to the river. That night, Dave is unable to get sleep. He gets the gun, fires it four times, and heads to Mr. Hawkins. If only he had one more bullet in his gun, he thought, he would have fired as a proof to Mr. Hawkins that he was no longer a child as she always thought of him. Finally, Dave decides to run with the gun for his power, control, and freedom.

The protagonists’ growth experiences and their implications

Dave is an average adolescent straining to grow up in the middle of the opportunistic black Americans’ harsh background. Dave’s experiences are not special in the growth development stage of many youths. He is driven by the stereotyping character of youth in the quest to gain maturity and independence, which lies ahead of him. He clearly acknowledges the benefits of adulthood, but he is not aware of the responsibilities and obligations involved in the freedom therein.

The search for power and freedom in gun

Dave finds himself in a caged world where he feels that he lacks the personal, economic, and the social power and freedom his growth. He looks at his life as a continuation of mortification and revilement. For instance, he is forced to obey his parents and work without direct access to his earnings. He feels that the degradation that he goes through hinders him from achieving his personal economic dreams and goals.

Therefore, he decides to own a gun that would make him gain respect and power in a bid to control the people around him. He believes that through a gun, he will gain freedom and power that will enable him achieve his desired dreams and purpose in life. Dave thinks, “I could kill a man with a gun like this. Kill anybody, black or white” (Wright 21). Dave aspires to gain power and control over all the people around him for the attainment of his manhood.

The thoughts of possessing a gun floods Dave’s mind with thoughts of manhood and the power therein. Apparently, by using the gun, he can now prove to the individuals that have seen him as a lesser man that he has indeed come of age.

Furthermore, Dave manages to escape with the gun at the end of the story to portray that he does not want anyone to snatch away his freedom (Wright 23). Moreover, the gun gives him the mentality that with its possession, he is already a man and he would achieve all his potential dreams. This young teenager believes in the stereotype of gun possession as the power and freedom to achieve anything of desire. The story reads, “Ahead the long rails were glinting in the moonlight, stretching away, away to somewhere, somewhere where he could be a man” (Wright 25).

This aspect shows the coming of age to Dave is unexpected and extemporaneous. The decision to escape by Dave comes from the social and economic oppressions in his life struggles. The possession of the gun lands him in an accidental killing that adds him the burden of increased responsibility and obligations. The issues surrounding Dave’s attempts to buy and own a gun allude to the challenges that bedevil teenage hood. This aspect culminates in the feeling of oppressions and struggles by the community, which leads to his unexpected escape.

Dave seeks more than just mere acceptance and societal recognition. He needs better and greater opportunities that his working in the fields can never provide. However, the running away acquires the control over his own destiny even though he has abandoned his family with consequential responsibilities of debts and family disobedience as a child. Therefore, having the full control of his future, Dave feels almost a man.

The mother asks, “Where yuh been, boy?” (Wright 29), which shows that she does not acknowledge Dave as a grown up, but a child by referring to him as a boy. The mother inquires where he has been because he is late. This limited freedom makes Dave crave to become a man in a bid to have the freedom he deserves. The buying of the gun shapes the teenager’s life, as he realizes that freedom comes with obligations and responsibilities that he is not ready to bear. The moment he accidentally shoots Jenny, his life takes a different turn and he realizes that he has to work extra harder to pay Mr. Hawkins.

The protagonists position in the society

Dave is regarded as young since the mother keeps his earnings. This aspect portrays that allegedly he does not know how to manage his own money. For instance, during the questioning of Jenny’s shooting, his father says, “Yuh want me get a tree and beat you till yuh talk” (Wright 32).

This assertion shows that the parents refer to Dave as a child who is to be corrected through beating. This aspect annoys Dave who later feels degraded when the crowd laughs at him. Consistently, his mother calls him ‘boy’, which is a term used to describe an immature male child. Dave is a child, but he strongly objects the societal view of him being a child. On the contrary, he wants to be a man with own responsibilities and freedom of choice.

The protagonist experiences tough challenges in his growth and development stage since he craves for the freedom that is not yet attainable at such an age. The responsibilities and obligations that come with adulthood seem difficult for Dave who finally runs away from his family (Wright 34). Evidently, the financial obligation resulting from the gun shooting of Jenny exerts a lot of pressure on his earnings. He says, “Two dollars a month. Let’s see now….that means it will take two years. Shucks! I will be damned” (Wright 35). Evidently, the responsibilities are too heavy for him, and from this point, he decides to run from what he sees as oppressions. The running makes him think that he has the freedom, the power, and control over his future, which then makes him a man.


The growth stage of teenagers seems complicated with great influence on stereotyping of growth from childhood to adulthood. However, uncontrolled zeal and anxiety to become an adult can ultimately lead to a downfall in life. Therefore, teenagers should learn to wait for the right time to accommodate social, economic, and moral responsibilities that come with adulthood.

Works Cited

Wright, Richard. The Man Who Was Almost a Man, New York: World Publishing Company, 1961. Print.

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"The Man Who Was Almost a Man." IvyPanda, 3 July 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/the-man-who-was-almost-a-man/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Man Who Was Almost a Man." July 3, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-man-who-was-almost-a-man/.


IvyPanda. "The Man Who Was Almost a Man." July 3, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-man-who-was-almost-a-man/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "The Man Who Was Almost a Man." July 3, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-man-who-was-almost-a-man/.


IvyPanda. (2020) '"The Man Who Was Almost a Man"'. 3 July.

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