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Nicholas Neacsu

English 102



The Teenage Portrayal Of Manhood


At times, some people in society feel a lack of power and control.  In the case of Dave in the story “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”, the seventeen year old felt exactly that.  Children in society are always reminded to grow up and act their age but some children are never shown how to grow up and how they are supposed to act.  As an adolescent, their can be much confusion on how to interpret the definition of growing up.  Young males, in particular, are constantly being told to grow up and act like a man.  The way each individual perceives the image of acting like a man will result in different actions and, in the case of Dave, only a gun would allow him to perceive himself as a man.

Dave was brought up in a poor African American family in the early 1900’s.  Dave worked as a field hand for a farmer by the name of Jim Hawkins.  Dave witnesses that there are men in a field practicing shooting and these men talked “to him as though he were a little boy” (Wright, 275).  Dave thought that no one respected him because they still viewed him as a child. “Ahm ol enough to hava gun. Ahm seventeen. Almost a man” (Wright, 275).  One day, Dave went to see Joe to get a Sears catalogue so he could see how much a gun would cost.  Dave knew that it would be very difficult to persuade his parents to allow him to have some money to buy a gun so he decided to manipulate his mother into giving him some money to purchase a gun by saying that the gun was for his dad.  His mother finally caved in. “Lawd knows yuh don need no gun.  But yer pa does” (Wright, 278).  Dave went back to Joe and bought the revolver for only two dollars. 

Instead of returning home with the gun, Dave stayed out late, past dinner, until his parents were asleep.  He then came home and just looked at the gun all night anticipating the morning where he would finally be able to shoot it.  Dave already felt that “they would have to respect him” (Wright, 278) just because he had this new form of power in his hands. 

That morning, Dave went to work for Mr. Hawkins.  He was told to plow a stretch down by the woods with a mule.  If he was in the woods, he would be able to fire his gun without anyone being able to hear.  So he fired his gun into the woods but the kickback knocked him over and he had apparently shot the mule.  Dave decided to try and cover his story up and told everyone that the mule had began “snortin and kicken her heals” and then “the plow was stickin up in the air, she swung erroun n twisted herself back on it” (Wright, 280). Finally Dave confesses to shooting the mule and he has to pay fifty dollars over two years to Mr. Hawkins because he had now “bought himself a dead mule!” (Wright, 281).

At the end of the story, Dave seems to have gone insane.  He decides to jump on a train out of town.  He wanted to get out of town with his gun to “where he could be a man” (Wright, 283).

There are many different theories of why some children perceive power and control with violence.  John E. Loftis’ essay “Domestic Prey: Richard Wrights Parody of the Hunt Tradition in ‘The Man Who Was Almost a Man’” suggests that “Dave has no adult black males to guide him or even serve as models to allow him to define manhood” (Loftis, 440).  Dave’s father is hardly ever mentioned in the story except in the scene where they are eating dinner and where he is being questioned about the shooting of the mule.  Loftis comes to the conclusion that “Dave’s adults are threats and exploiters” and that Dave is trapped.  The mule that Dave shot was symbolized by the incarceration that Dave feels.  “Dave must symbolically kill the domination before he is free to grow up” (Loftis, 442).  

            Comparing the story “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” with gun control and possession among children in late 1990’s, there continues to be a problem with the ability for children easily to access guns.  An article in 1999 titled “Juvenile Focus” by Alvin W. Cohn states that “Forty-three percent of American households with children have guns” and “Twenty-three percent of these guns are loaded at all times”. (Cohn, 1999).  Also, “the rate of killings by juveniles tripled from 1986 to 1993” (Cohn, 1999). 

            Why are teenagers becoming more violent in society?  Parental neglect has become a large factor for teenage violence.  Patricia M. Moran’s article “Exploring Psychological Abuse in Childhood: 1. Developing a New Interview Scale” talks about parental psychological abuse during childhood and its negative effects.  Types of psychological abuse include rejection, isolation, terrorizing, ignoring, and corrupting a child or youth.  Morgan research also adds that psychological abuse can also include having "added excessive threats, refusal of psychological treatment, sexual exposure and exploitation, denial of opportunities to grow socially and emotionally, singling out one child in the family to punish or criticize, and unrealistic expectations” (Baily and Baily).

            Dr. Raymond Lloyd Richmond’s research identifies adolescent problems in his article called “Adolescent Violence”.  Dr. Richmond states that “adolescence is a time when children start to use their newly developed powers of logical thinking to see for themselves whether the things they’ve been told all their lives by adults, especially their parents, are true or not” (Richmond, 1997-2003). Youthful idealism is very common as children grow just as in the case of Dave in “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”.  Dave idolized the men in the field with the guns and thought that if he had a gun, they would respect him and everyone else would respect him.  Dr. Raymond’s explanation for this behavior is that adolescents sometimes socially change to conform to there idols and, eventually, “they sink into the reality of human selfishness and the battle against the world becomes harder and harder to fight” (Richmond, 1997-2003).

            Was it surprising that Dave though that he needed the gun to convince himself that he was a grown up?  Dave grew up in a family with very little guidance except for the occasional threat by Dave’s father that he’ll “take a tree n beat yuh” (Wright, 281).  Dave had very little education, which is evident in his vocabulary.  There was, in fact, very little guidance and Dave did what he thought was right and how he perceived society.  He did think that a gun would bring him respect but, after all, no one respected him anymore than they used to.  Everyone still laughed at him after he shot the mule.  No one asked him why he really wanted the gun.  His parents did not even try to constructively reason with Dave and tell him why a gun was not the answer.  Even after the incident, Dave still thought that only a gun would allow him to be respected.  Dave jumped on a train out of town with his gun “gripped tightly” (Wright, 283) and went away “somewhere, somewhere where he could be a man” (Wright, 283). 






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Work Cited


    Baily, T.F., & Baily, W.H. Operational Definitions of Child Emotional Maltreatment: Final Report (National Center On

        Child Abuse and Neglect, DHHS 90-CA-0956). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1986.


    Cohn, Alvin W. "Juvenile Focus" Federal Probation; Jun 99, Vol. 63 Issue 1, P79. Galileo. 1997.


    Lloyd, Raymond Richmond, PH.D. Adolescent Violence. A Guide to Psychology and Its Practice. San Francisco, Ca.     




    Loftis, John E. "Domestic Prey: Richard Wright's Parody of the Hunt Tradition in 'The Man Who Was Almost

        a Man.'" Studies in Short Fiction; Summer 86, Vol. 23 Issue 3, P437. Galileo. 2003.       



    McMahan, Elizabeth, et al. "The Man Who Was Almost a Man" Wright.  Literature and the Writing Process, 6th ed.       

        Upper Saddle, NJ: Prentice Hall. P.275-283. 2003.


    Morhan, Patricia M. "Exploring Psychological Abuse in Childhood: 1. Developing a New Interview Scale."

        Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic; Summer 2002, Vol. 66 Issue 3, P238. Galileo. 2003.



    Wright, Richard. The Man Who Was Almost A Man.