In Richard Wright's "The Man Who Was Almost a Man," what does  Wright's conjunction of respect, power, and the threat of violence mean?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Seventeen-year-old Dave desperately wants respect and power.  He wants his parents and coworkers in the field to see him as a man, and in his eyes, owning a gun will allow him to get their respect and will give him a sense of power. Ironically, though, Dave has to ask his mom for money and permission to buy the pistol from the storeowner, and even when she relents, the agreement is that he will buy the gun for his dad.

For a brief moment, Dave does feel a sense of power.  He has the gun in his possession, and he even finds the bravado to fire the gun, but in doing so, the gun overpowers him, and he accidentally kills a mule. What Dave fails to learn from killing the mule and trying to cover it up is that one cannot earn respect or have power simply from the hint or threat of violence. His parents and coworkers had witnessed enough violence in their lives and do not equate it or owning a gun with respect.

As Dave hops on the train at the end of a story looking for a place where he would be viewed as a man, Wright implies that Dave still has not learned how respect and power correlate with one another. The reader is left wondering if the young "man" will ever recognize that because he did not have respect for the power of the gun (or literally respect for his father and others in authority over him) he will not be respected or feel powerful.

Read the study guide:
The Man Who Was Almost a Man

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