The Man Who Was Almost a Man: Giving Power to Irresponsible People

In 1961, Richard Wright published “The man who was almost a man”, also known as “Almos’ a man”, in a compilation of short stories called, “The eight men”. Wright was best known as an African-American author of novels, short stories, poems, and nonfiction stories. Most of his literature highlighted the racial themes of many African-Americans, who suffered from discrimination and suffrage during the late 1800s and mid-1900s. So his writing of “The man who was almost a man” was a coming-of-age story of a young African-American boy’s journey to discovering his newly found need for independence and manhood. The main character, Dave, works on a farm with his family and gets no respect from anyone. He believes that by obtaining a gun, he will finally get the recognition of being a “man” from his family, his peers that “bullied” him, and also his boss. He does successfully obtain a gun and ends up shooting his boss’s mule, which causes him to repay his debt through work that’ll take many years to pay back. So Dave decides to impulsively run away on a train with nothing but a gun, that only has one bullet left in the barrel. In The man who was almost a man, Wright uses powerful symbolism, through everyday objects, in order to display the theme of how power will lead to serious consequences.

Once Dave is able to hold a gun in his hand, all of his worries are washed away and he immediately begins to gain a sense of control. It was said that, “ he held it loosely, feeling a sense of power. Could kill a man with a gun like this. Kill anybody, black or white. And if he were holding his gun in his hand, nobody could run over him; they would have to respect him”. The gun represented everything Dave desired, which was power and respect from others and was seen as an outlet to his manhood. This is very significant to the story because Dave is perceived as an immature teenage boy, who needs to be constantly kept an eye on. He felt as if he was trapped in a life that he had absolutely no control over. He is forced to obey his parents, work on another man’s land, doesn’t receive his payment directly, and is always the butt of the joke among his peers and coworkers. By purchasing a gun, he thought that everyone, who belittled him, will begin to respect him and no longer mess with him. He now has the ability to “play God” and be able to kill anyone who crosses him. The gun, made him do very irresponsible and impulsive actions, like how he lied to his mother about the real purpose of getting them a gun and killed the boss’s mule. The power of the gun, drove Dave to make terrible decisions and makes him less of a man, that he thinks he is.

The day after Dave obtains the gun, he gets up early in the morning and brings Jenny, the mule, deep in the forest to test out his new gun. He sees Jenny, as himself. A slave living the rest of his life under another man’s commands for the rest of his life. Once he shot Jenny, he is caught short and has to work to pay off his debt for killing his boss’s mule. So he decides to jump on a train and run away from home, with nothing but his gun. In the text it said that, “Ahead the long rails were glinting in the moonlight, stretching away, away to somewhere, somewhere where he could be a man.”. Dave’s decision to suddenly board the train reflects his journey to manhood. He runs away from his home because craves for more recognition, acceptance, and most importantly more job opportunities, that his original fieldwork couldn’t provide. The train enabled Dave to finally gain his own independence and make his own decisions, even though he’s also irresponsibly abandons his family, leaves debt unpaid, and still has an immature, child-like mentality. By hopping on the train with only his gun, it represents his journey to independence with the power and freedom he now possesses. Now Dave is able to able to have control over his life and choices, despite the serious consequences or unsure future he’ll face.

Going deeper into the similarities of Dave and Jenny, Dave clearly acknowledges the parallels between himself and Jenny, even complaining to himself that everybody 'treats me like a mule, n they beat me,'. Dave noted the similar lifestyle that he and Jenny have such as being forced to work with very little pay, being unable to escape, and never being able to change. The mule is also symbolized as commitment and accountability, aspects of maturity that Dave still refuses to accept. Consequently, Jenny's death shows him how he craves the freedom that adults have but doesn’t want to deal with any responsibilities.

Through Dave’s story, it can be proven that by giving power to the wrong people it'll lead to serious consequences. It can be seen in many known cases around the world and in historical literature. Giving irresponsible people power, it’ll lead to dangerous results. For example, many immature leaders have brought their country down due to their poor choice or how many school shooters are able to purchase a gun with no hassle. To prevent disasters like this from happening is by being more strict with being able to purchase our weapons and not to be controlling over our children's money, occupation, and dreams.       

29 April 2022
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