In the mid-1930s Richard Wright drafted an early version of ‘‘The Man Who Was Almost a Man’’ as a chapter in a novel about the childhood and adolescence of a black boxer entitled Tarbaby’s Dawn. Wright never finished the novel, but in 1940 the story appeared in Harper’s Bazaar under the title ‘‘Almos’ a Man.’’
In this period Wright was at the height of his powers, publishing his three major works, Uncle Tom’s Children, Native Son, and Black Boy between 1938 and 1945. With Native Son he became the first African-American author to write a bestseller and gained an international reputation for his exploration of racial issues and bold, realistic style.
The final version of ‘‘The Man Who Was Almost a Man’’ was not published until 1960—the year of Wright’s death—in a collection of short stories entitled Eight Men. While it is sometimes compared unfavorably to his early fiction, many critics praised the collection for offering a sensitive look at racial oppression.
‘‘The Man Who Was Almost a Man’’ chronicles the story of Dave, a young, African-American farm laborer struggling to assert his identity in the restrictive racist atmosphere of the rural South. Longing for a symbol of power and masculinity, Dave fantasizes that owning a gun will win him the respect he craves. After he gets a gun, he learns that he needs more than a gun to earn respect.