What does Bill, the father of Dave, symbolizes in the story The Man Who Was Almost a Man?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bill, the father of Dave, symbolizes the impotent position of the black male in both the family structure and in society.  Although as an adult man, Bill is physically powerful, he has little influence over Dave in the long run.  Bill is an authoritarian parent who questions his son about his relationship with Jim Hawkins, the white landowner who owns the plantation where Dave works.  He also threatens to thrash his son for his foolish action in shooting Hawkins' mule.  Despite his posturing, Bill's attempts to assert his authority as a parent are ineffectual.  Dave goes behind his father's back and convinces his mother to give him the money to buy a gun; the fact that his father himself has no gun symbolizes his lack of potency and power.

The character of Bill also reflects the debasement of the Negro in relation to whites in society.  Even though he tries to set Dave right for his behavior towards Hawkins, he himself is powerless in the face of the white man's will and must ultimately capitulate to the plantation owner's dictates.

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The Man Who Was Almost a Man

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