In the story "The Man Who Was Almost a Man," how does Dave's relationship with his parents, neighbors, and nature affect his living?

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The short story "The Man Who Was Almost a Man" by Richard Wright tells of a 16-year-old black boy who is desperate to assert his manhood. He comes to the conclusion that owning a gun will give him the authority and respect that he thinks he deserves, so...

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The short story "The Man Who Was Almost a Man" by Richard Wright tells of a 16-year-old black boy who is desperate to assert his manhood. He comes to the conclusion that owning a gun will give him the authority and respect that he thinks he deserves, so he buys one, only to make a terrible mistake with oppressive consequences. In the end, he runs away to try to become a man on his own terms.

Both of Dave's parents are strict, but Dave's father is far more domineering than his mother. He is a disciplinarian who beats his son if he doesn't obey, and as a result, Dave fears being honest with him. Dave's mother is more practical. She keeps the money in the house. She has a closer relationship with her son, and Dave has the confidence to approach her with the idea of owning a gun. Eventually, her love for her son and her wish to see him happy causes her to break down and give him the money. To Dave, however, the gun represents a maturity that his parents cannot give him, and as a result, he is willing to leave them so that he can continue to think of himself as a man and not a boy.

Dave's relationship with fat Joe, the white man who owns the store, is basically professional. Fat Joe considers Dave a customer, and so he is willing to lend him the catalog, expecting a sale as a result. Jim Hawkins, the man who owns the plantation where Dave works, shows restraint in not punishing Dave but merely asking him to pay back the cost of the mule. However, to Dave, Hawkins represents the oppression of the employer, as exemplified when Dave imagines shooting at Hawkins's house to frighten him.

Dave has no special relationship with nature. Richard Wright, the author, describes a stark landscape of fields and woods that serves as a backdrop to the story. Dave is too caught up in his own concerns to appreciate it or notice it much.

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This story is a modernist story, and one of the traits of the style of modernism is that the characters contained in the story are often alienated and disconnected, and have a hard time communicating effectively with one another.  Dave, who resents being poor and resents being treated like a kid from the other slavehands (see the very opening passage of the story; Dave is complaining about the field hands teasing him like he's a kid), feels isolated and alone.  He feels picked on, misunderstood, and not included.  His mother seems to be pretty ineffectual in holding any sway over him, and he outright disobeys his father, who tends to be a bit overbearing.  So, with no friends, no real connection with his parents, with constant badgering from those he works with, and with his poor station as a share-cropper, Dave doesn't really have much of a monetary living, and spends his emotional living being filled with angst, and finding ways to be noticed.

All of these forces combine to make Dave feel powerless.  Sharecroppers never made enough money to get ahead, and he was part of that legacy.  He worked another man's fields for almost nothing.  Then, you add neighbors and coworkers who tease him, and parents that he is distant from, and it is the formula for a kid with some esteem and anger issues.  This is why he gets the gun; he can earn respect, be noticed, and prove his manhood.  If only he understood that manhood is making responsible decisions and paying for the consequences of your actions...but, he doesn't, and hence the title "The Man Who Was Almost a Man."

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