Explain the masculine folly in Wright's "The Man Who Was Almost a Man," and Updike's "A & P."

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In both Richard Wright's "The Man Who Was Almost a Man," and John Updike's "A & P," there is an element of "masculine folly."

In "The Man Who Was Almost a Man," the main character is Dave, who is seventeen years old. Dave works in the fields and lives with his family. However, he has the sense that if he had a gun, no one would push him around. He asks his mother for one, and she does not want him to have it. However, he nags her until she gives in. Ultimately, Dave goes out into the field early one morning to shoot it (though he was warned not to), just to see how it feels to fire the pistol, and he inadvertently shoots his boss's mule, and it dies. Dave is caught, and his boss if pretty understanding, but insists Dave must pay for the animal. Instead of staying around to face the consequences of his actions, he sneaks off and runs away.

Dave's "masculine folly" is two-fold. He is foolish to believe that having a gun will make him more of a man, and will allow him to command more respect from others. The respect he wants he has to earn, but Dave is very childish. Running away at the end is also a "folly." It is impossible to run away from your mistakes, and somehow he cannot grasp the fact that he should be responsible for what he has done. Leaving home will remove him from the situation, but it also takes him away from family and security, going out into a world where he believes a gun is the mark of a man.

In "A & P," Sammy is our main character, and he is younger than Dave. He also works, but in a grocery store. One day three young girls enter the store wearing only bathing suits, which is against store rules. As they approach Sammy's checkout lane, the manager comes out and chastises the girls for their attire. After they leave, Sammy stands up for the girls, and then he quits. The manager, who is a family friend, warns Sammy that he will probably be sorry for leaving. Sammy readily admits that this may be the case, but he feels he must take a stand on principle. Sammy recognizes that something has changed, and things will never be the same for him.

Sammy's "masculine folly" is not nearly as severe as Dave's. Sammy believes in something admirable, though perhaps not so realistic. When he believes the girls have been wronged, he stands up for them. Because he disagrees with the rules, he doesn't feel as if he can continue to work there. This is probably Sammy's folly. He stands up for a girl he does not know, who will never know that he did so. He now must go home and explain what has happened to his parents. To the manager, Sammy's actions were foolish, but they are born of his concern for another person, and Sammy is ready to face the consequences of the choice he made.