Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The question of how one becomes initiated into adulthood pervades this story, beginning with the first paragraph, in which David tells himself that someday he is “going to get a gun and practice shooting, then they couldn’t talk to him as though he were a little boy.” Because he is seventeen, he muses, he is “almos a man.” Almost a man, however, is a dangerous age to be, for David is neither child nor adult; he is in that painful transitional period between the two.
Although he is neither fish nor fowl, neither child nor adult, David demonstrates characteristics of both stages of life, sometimes simultaneously. When, for example, he decides to purchase a gun, a step that will symbolize and initiate him into manhood, he resorts to the childish manipulation of his mother to persuade her to allow him to make the purchase. When he actually fires the gun to demonstrate that he is indeed a man, he is literally overpowered, as a child would be, by the power of the weapon. His final action also demonstrates this paradox of a childish adult or an adult child, for he hops a train, suggesting that he is making an independent, adult decision to set off on his own; yet he reveals his immaturity when, in the final lines of the story, he connects the gun in his pocket with the dream in his soul. To have a revolver is to be a man, he believes; the boy who is almost a man is still a child.