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Review of The Man Who Was Almost a Man, by Richard Wright

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Words: 923 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Dec 12, 2018

Words: 923|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Dec 12, 2018

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In Richard Wright's short story, "The Man Who Was Almost a Man," we follow the journey of a teenage boy named Dave as he grapples with his desire to become a man, primarily through owning a gun. Unlike some of Wright's darker narratives, this story takes on a humorous and satirical tone, inviting readers to chuckle at Dave's misadventures and foolish decisions. However, beneath the humor lies a deeper exploration of the societal expectations of masculinity during Wright's time. This essay aims to dissect the layers of satire and irony in the story while delving into Dave's misguided pursuit of manhood.

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The Use of Irony to Represent Masculinity

From the outset, Dave's aspirations are clear: he believes that owning a gun will command respect from others. However, the story's cruel and comedic irony becomes evident as he ends up in trouble with his parents, and those around him find amusement in his predicament, despite his newfound possession of the gun. It is essential to note that the humor in the story does not stem from the gun itself but rather from Dave's actions and decisions.

Dave's actions, in fact, reveal a paradox. Despite his conviction that owning a gun makes him a man, his behavior increasingly mirrors that of a child throughout the story. This irony adds depth to the narrative. Initially, Dave returns home after inquiring about purchasing the gun, only to ask his mother for the money. Masculinity, especially during Wright's era, emphasized financial independence and leadership within the household. Dave's inability to access his own money, which his parents control, forces him to seek assistance from his mother—a woman.

Dave's choice of words also undermines his claim to manhood. When he pleads,

"Ma, ef yuh lemme buy one Ah'll never ast yuh fer nothing no mo,"

his language resembles that of a desperate child rather than a self-assured man. His mother's response,

"Yuh ain't nothing but a boy yit!"

highlights the dissonance between Dave's perception of himself and the reality of his situation. Dave neither agrees with nor disputes her statement, suggesting his confusion and immaturity.

Perhaps the most telling evidence of Dave's childish behavior is his attempt to evade responsibility when maturity calls for accepting it. Dave, without proper knowledge of firearms, recklessly fires the gun and tragically wounds the mule, Jenny, he is working with. Instead of confessing to his boss, Hawkins, about the incident, Dave buries the gun and attempts to fabricate a lie. However, an older and wiser man points out the bullet hole, exposing Dave's deception. The story then reveals a more vulnerable side of Dave as he gazes upon Jenny's lifeless body, shedding tears—an action often associated with vulnerability rather than masculinity.

Dave further shirks responsibility by failing to compensate Hawkins for the loss of the mule. Instead, he flees from home, clutching the gun he believes will define his manhood, and hops onto a train. The story's conclusion is open to interpretation. Adults may view Dave's flight as a childish act, reminiscent of their own youthful escapades. On the other hand, younger readers might romanticize Dave's departure as a bold and independent move. However, a closer examination reveals the inadequacies in Dave's plan. He lacks connections, financial resources, and even the necessary knowledge to fend for himself. His decision to empty the gun's cartridge before embarking on this journey underscores his lack of preparation.

Furthermore, Dave's financial dependency on his mother is indicative of his unpreparedness for adulthood. He has never spent any of his earnings, and his mother continues to oversee his finances, knowing he lacks the financial acumen to make sound investments, such as purchasing new school clothes. In essence, Dave's actions throughout the story emphasize his immaturity and his unfulfilled quest for manhood.

The overarching element in "The Man Who Was Almost a Man" is dramatic irony, defining it as a satire. The narrative invites multiple interpretations and resonates with diverse audiences due to this very irony. Dave's single-minded focus on the gun and violence as symbols of manhood serves as a reflection of the simplistic view of masculinity prevalent during his time.

Audiences with a nuanced understanding of the complexity of masculinity can find amusement in Dave's folly, recognizing his misguided pursuit. In contrast, those who share Dave's perspective may feel a sense of foolishness within themselves when confronted with the story's ambiguous and likely unsatisfactory ending. For this group, Dave's narrative can serve as a cautionary tale, urging them to reevaluate their notions of manhood.

Richard Wright's purpose in crafting this story was not merely to entertain but to engage readers in critical thinking about the multifaceted concept of masculinity. By using humor and irony, he highlights the limitations of a narrow and violent definition of manhood, challenging his audience to consider broader and more meaningful dimensions of masculinity beyond the allure of firearms.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, "The Man Who Was Almost a Man" by Richard Wright offers a satirical exploration of masculinity through the misadventures of Dave. The story's humor and irony serve as a vehicle for deeper reflection on societal expectations and the pitfalls of a simplistic view of manhood. Dave's misguided pursuit of manhood highlights the immaturity and lack of preparedness that can accompany a narrow understanding of masculinity. Wright's narrative invites diverse interpretations, making it a thought-provoking and relevant exploration of an age-old societal construct.

References:

  1. Wright, R. (1961). The Man Who Was Almost a Man. In L. A. Gold & S. R. Sanders (Eds.), The Best American Short Stories of the Century (pp. 391-402). Mariner Books.
  2. Watkins, S. (1993). Richard Wright: Text and Pretext. Southern Illinois University Press.
  3. Fabre, M. (1977). The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright. Popular Press.
  4. Baldwin, J. (1955). Son of a Native Son. Partisan Review, 22(2), 149-154.
  5. Watkins, S. (1980). Richard Wright: A Biography. University of Chicago Press.
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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Review of The Man Who Was Almost a Man, By Richard Wright. (2018, December 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 25, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/review-of-the-man-who-was-almost-a-man-by-richard-wright/
“Review of The Man Who Was Almost a Man, By Richard Wright.” GradesFixer, 11 Dec. 2018, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/review-of-the-man-who-was-almost-a-man-by-richard-wright/
Review of The Man Who Was Almost a Man, By Richard Wright. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/review-of-the-man-who-was-almost-a-man-by-richard-wright/> [Accessed 25 Feb. 2024].
Review of The Man Who Was Almost a Man, By Richard Wright [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Dec 11 [cited 2024 Feb 25]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/review-of-the-man-who-was-almost-a-man-by-richard-wright/
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