A Man Who Almost Lost A Man by Richard Wright Essay
"A Man Who Almost Lost A Man" by Richard Wright.
Richard Wright talks about many young men in America who feel that society does not treat them how they want to be treated. Wright introduces Dave Saunders, a seventeen-year-old black man who works as a farm laborer on Mr. Hawkins’s farm. Dave is "almost a man" because he feels incomplete, mainly due to disrespect from his mother and other people. This is the central conflict of the story where Dave is determined to get a gun because, according to him, that’s the true definition of a man that will enable him to be a respected member of society. However, Dave later learns that the gun does not represent manhood and does not command the respect he is looking for. The gun enables Dave to kill the mule named Jenny that he uses to plow Mr. Hawkins’s farm. This responsibility is the true definition of manhood. Dave realizes that he may never get the respect and power that he desires in the fam, so he decides to run away from the farm.
Thesis: The author Richard Wright uses symbolism in the story "The Man Who Was Almost A Man" to talk about the theme of manhood, the search for power and growth into manhood struggles through the protagonist Dave Saunders who does not learn about the true definition of manhood.
Dave starts his search for power and manhood after realizing that he is not being accorded all the respect he deserves. He feels that he is not being respected because he was being forced to do what he was being told to do by his mother and his co-workers on the farm. According to him, power and manhood would enable him to make decisions for himself and command respect from his relatives and co-workers. Therefore, owning a gun would allow him to prove his manhood and command respect from everybody on the farm. Though the desire for manhood and power is common among adolescent boys of Dave’s age, he has several experiences that aggravate his willingness to be a man and to have more power. First, he feels that he does not control his life because he cannot use and enjoy his hard-earned cash as a man. His mother takes the money he was worked for. This is not the case for his father, who does not suffer from the same fate (Wright, pg. 500). His father is also strict towards him and is always giving directions that limit his freedom and happiness.
Moreover, Dave also feels disrespected by Mr. Hawkins and Joe and other co-workers who, apart from calling him a boy, treat him like one. Dave does not respect his desires because he is black and from a low-income family in the community. However, he believes that getting a gun would help him to receive respect, enjoy the power and have the freedom to make his own decisions.
Dave feels proud of himself after acquiring a gun that costs him two dollars, but is not sure how to use it. This ends up being a source of humiliation and pain after shooting the mule. Mr. Hawkins and joe laugh at him for his stupid behavior with the gun. He is now in debt to Mr. Hawkins and must pay him 50 bucks for the mule, which he can only get through working for him for two years without earning a single penny (Wright, pg. 509). However, Dave feels that he has the power to run away because he has a gun though readers are confused about how it will help him and how his life will turn out.
Dave fails to understand that his lack of power and respect from his co-workers and mother is due to his race and social class. He is from an African American family working for a white farmer, Mr. Hawkins, under little pay, which is not enough for the economic freedom that he deserves to feel like a man. Lack of money in the family is the main reason his mother takes all the money he earns to the point he does not have enough to buy the gun. Therefore, his race and class are the key reasons why Dave lacks the opportunity for economic improvement and freedom that would enable him to become a man. Mr. Hawkins’s treatment of Dave and his family develops the aspect of racism and slavery of black people in America. This is clear when Dave kills the mule; he feels that Dave is indebted to him and has to work for him to for almost two years without earning anything to clear the debt (Wright, pg. 501). Dave and his family members do not have any say in this, and they have to listen and respect what Hawkins feels is right by him. Mr. Hawkins’s judgment and treatment, anger Dave, who now even considers acquiring power through any violent way, including attacking Mr. Hawkins and his family. He feels that he needs to have more power to help him take on a more favorable position in the community where he would not be forced to work for two years for accidentally killing a mule. As much as race and class are not the main motivations behind getting a gun, they are the main reasons Dave is in the state he is in that prompt him to buy a gun. His dreams of attacking Mr. Hawkins show that the gun is intended to shows white people that he is not working under them. His struggles and mentality compare to many young African American men who feel that violence is their way to getting more power and commanding respect from white people, especially those who abuse or treat them in the wrong way. Their involvement in crime is due to the belief that the power and respect they desire will not come naturally, and they seek ways to achieve it. However, Dave does not accomplish his goals after discovering that there will be no justice for him on Mr. Hawkins’s farm, so he decides to leave in search of a better one.
Wright discusses Dave’s coming of age struggles and his decision to acquire a gun to perceive that it will enable him to become a man who will command respect and power. However, Dave’s thinking is a consequence of immaturity that bars him from understanding that being a man is about responsibility. Dave believed that having a gun made people fear him; hence, they would fear calling and treating him as a boy. "…one of these days he was going to get a gun and practice shooting, they couldn’t talk to him as though he were a little boy" (Wright, pg. 499). This is an indication of immaturity since Dave does not think of how dangerous the gun is and all the negative consequences that the gun might have that might affect his life. Dave is immature to understand that being a man is about responsibility and the decision-making that one involves. He does not know that he must go through adolescence and later become a man. Wright uses the gun as Dave’s passage into adulthood, where he must work for two years without a wage to pay for the mule he killed. Dave cannot withstand manhood’s responsibilities, which makes him consider violence, and later runs away with his gun to seek a better and fulfilling life elsewhere. Dave’s immaturity makes it hard for him to consider that the gun might invite more burdens of responsibilities, trouble, and even the worst, death in the future.
In conclusion, the author Richard Wright uses symbolism in the story "The Man Who Was Almost A Man" to talk about the theme of manhood, the search for power, and growth into manhood struggles through the protagonist Dave Saunders does not learn about the true definition of manhood. Dave’s reasoning and actions are the products of immaturity that gives him a wrong impression of manhood. Dave’s struggles and decisions are also significantly contributed by his race and social class. He is a poor African American who must work on a white man’s farm for a low wage. Though running away with the gun might not be the best thing for Dave, staying back would also not guarantee him an opportunity for respect and power since they must be achieved through economic improvement.
Wright, R. (1983). The man who was almost a man. The short story: 50 masterpieces, 499-511.