Richard White’s short story, “The Man Who Was Almost a Man,” portrays the internal struggles of a yearning for power and manhood while also shedding light on the inherent immaturity that accompanies such a forced desire. The protagonist, Dave Saunders, is an African-American teenager struggling with his desires to be viewed as a man.
He works as a field hand for Mr. Hawkins and is teased by the older men who work alongside him. Such ridicule drives Dave to buy a gun after convincing his mother that they “needa gun in the house. Against his mother’s demands that he “bring it straight back t me,” Dave purchases the gun, straps it to his leg and heads out to a faraway field with Mr.
Hawkins’ mule, Jenny, and a plow. Upon reaching the field, Dave’s inexperience with firing a gun leads him to accidentally shooting Jenny. Dave’s immaturity truly surfaces when he attempts to lie to cover up his accident. After finally telling the truth, it is determined that Mr. Hawkins will keep $2 of Dave’s pay every month until the mule is paid for.
At this point, Dave feels “hurt” because of the snickers he received from the crowd that gathered after he shot Jenny. His embarrassment and goal of “becoming a man” leads him to jump on a train that night, a train headed “somewhere, somewhere where he could be a man. ” Wright’s portrayal of Dave Saunders, his actions and his blind struggle to be perceived as a respectable man argue his central idea that maturity and respect are self-attained and that the forced quest for such things inherently reveals one’s immaturity and ignorance.Throughout the story, Dave Saunders attempts a feeble and arrogant pursuit of manhood while also revealing the innate childishness that accompanies such a quest.
As the story begins with Dave being taunted by his fellow field-workers, readers are presented with the first sign of his brash and uninformed mentality when he says, “One of these days he was going to get a gun and practice shooting, then they couldn’t talk to him as though he were a little boy. This immediately reveals Dave’s immaturity in the sense that he feels his only means of receiving respect and manhood is through purchasing an object that asserts dominance. This characterization of Dave is further cemented when he accidentally shoots Jenny due to his inexperience with guns and reaches the conclusion that “he could not tell Jim Hawkins he had shot his mule. But he had to tell him something. ” Further, his immaturity becomes most evident in his decision to jump on the train and find “somewhere where he could become a man.
Dave’s initial desire to attain some sense of feigned manhood through an object accompanied with his choice to run from all adversity further prove the central idea that maturity, manhood and respect are unattainable to those who blindly search for them. The conflict Dave experiences further portrays the impossibility of ignorantly achieving manhood and sheds light on the inherent differences between feigned and actual maturity.While much of the conflict experienced by Dave is one of his internal problems with how people perceive him, these internal qualms are only a product of the external factors that create them. Dave’s experience in the fields has introduced him to a group of men who look down on him and view him as if “he were a little boy,” forced him to obey the condescending word of his boss and has led him to a life in which his mother takes care of his money, leaving him with virtually no facet of control over anything around him.There are also many points in the story in which the town laughs or snickers at Dave, such as when he shoots Jenny and “All the crowd was laughing. ” It is the culmination of these external conflicts choices that spawn the internal conflict Dave experiences in attempting to discover his manhood.
Simultaneously, Dave’s attempts to avoid adversity by lying and running are the conflict decisions that make his immaturity most evident.