The main character in Richard Wright’s story “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” struggles to know who he actually is. Dave Saunders’ identity crisis comes from living in a small southern town where he is a nobody.
Dave is not unusual for a boy is age: seventeen. His family is from a low social class, but they work hard to make life better. His parents do not trust him to take care of his own money. His mother keeps it for him in a stocking that she wears.
He wants respect and to be able to do whatever he wants. He is frustrated not only as a boy who is almost a man but as an African American who lives in the south during the early 1960s. His situation and background do not offer him the opportunities or education to learn the things that might help him to mature.
Yet, Dave is immature and foolish. He decides that the way to get respect from his peers and his family is to own a gun. With his gun, he could prove that he was a mature man. He makes a deal with a local white man to purchase a gun if he has parental permission and the money.
Dave knows his dad would never allow him to buy the gun; consequently, he asks his mother for the money. She agrees, but only if he brings the gun back for the father to use. Dave agrees to the conditions.
When he gets the gun, Dave places it under his pillow; then, he takes the gun with him to his work. He plows fields with a mule named Jenny. Trying to show off his skills, he accidentally shoots and kills the mule belonging to his employer. Reinforcing his lack of maturity, Dave buries the gun and tries to lie to the owner and his boss to prevent him from knowing that he shot the mule.
Obviously, the boy does not get away with a lie about what happened to the mule. Eventually, he has to own up to what happened. His mother confesses also to her involvement. Mr. Hawkins, the owner of the mule, makes an agreement that Dave will pay for the mule out of his paycheck.
That night Dave does not sleep. He can hear the people laughing at him. He knows that his father is going to beat him. Unbelievably, Dave still wants to have the gun.
Dave goes to the place where he buried the gun. Digs it up and begins to shoot it. He decides to scare the owner of the mule by shooting the gun.
When he reached the top of the ridge he stood straight and proud in the moonlight, looking at Jim Hawkins big white house, feelings the gun sagging in his pocket. Lawd if I had just one mo bullet. Ah'd taka shot a tha house. Ah'd like to scare ol man Hawkins just a little...Jusa enough t let him know Dave Saunders is a man.
Then, he decides to catch a train and run away.
Dave has learned nothing from this terrible accident. He does not seem to feel any remorse for the death of the animal. He will not stay and pay for the animal that was lost. In fact, he is angry with the idea of having the money taken out of his earnings by Mr.Hawkins. Dave will not stand up like a man and take the punishment from his father.
Like many boys during this time, Dave believes that he can escape his harsh life and go somewhere else where he will have the respect and prove that he is a man. Dave may find that life is not as easy as he thinks that it is.