The Man Who Was Almost a Man

by Richard Wright

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Discuss Dave's character in "The Man Who Was Almost a Man" by Richard Wright.

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Dave Saunders wants a gun in “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” by Richard Wright.  This teenager finds himself struggling to be a man; however, his immaturity in thinking and no understanding of consequences of actions prevents his transference to adulthood. Dave serves as a typical teenager who imagines that he is ready for adult responsibilities. 

Believing that if he owns a gun, this will be an easy way to become a man.  He thinks that if he has the power of a gun he will earn the respect that he wants.  Who is Dave Saunders in reality?

  • A field hand’s son
  • Lacks education
  • Impoverished
  • No opportunities
  • Wants to escape
  • Manipulates his mother

Dave works for Mr. Hawkins plowing fields.  He drives his plow with a mule named Jenny.  When he talks his mother into letting him buy the gun, foolishly Dave takes it with him to work and accidentally kills the mule.  From this event, the boy’s punishment makes the boy pay $50 for the mule to be taken from his pay.  He also believes that his dad will beat him again.

To pay back Mr. Hawkins, Dave shoots at his house.  Then, he hears a train. He decides like many young black men of his time to leave the South and travel north to find a better life.  He latches on to the train which ends the story.

Dave does see that the gun brings him more problems that he thought.  Still, in his immaturity, he would love to have more bullets to use in his gun.  When he gets on the train, he has his gun with him. This probably means more problems for Dave in the future.

His fantasies did not include killing the mule. But that is what happens. Subconsciously, did Dave intend to kill the mule to pay back Mr. Hawkins for his money and power?

When he reached the top of a ridge, he stood straight and proud in the moonlight, looking at Jim Hawkins’ bi white house, feeling the gun sagging in his pocket. Lawd, ef Ah had just one mo bullet Ah’d taka shot at that house. Ah’d scare ol man Hawkins jusa little…jusa enough t let im know Dave Saunders is a man.

Proving his immaturity again,  luckily he uses up all his bullets wildly shooting in the sky.

Dave does not realize that no one  respects him right now because of his lack of understanding that he has really done something wrong. His reaction when confronted by to the situation is to cry.  The important thing to learn comes from whether or not Dave’s emotion issues from the killing of the mule or his being caught and having to pay the price. 

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