What is the most important element of fiction in this story?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Man Who Was Almost a Man," the African-American author, Richard Wright, tells the story of Dave, a seventeen year-old  African-American young man and his desire to be seen as a grown-up.

As the story begins, Dave is incensed.  It is not clear why, but Dave states that it's ridiculous to try to talk to the other workers, inferring that they're not too bright; they are bigger than him, but he doesn't care.  However, he thinks if he had a gun, he would be a man that no one could push him around because he would have power.

In the story, Dave gets money to buy the gun...for his father to keep.  Dave buys the gun, but never gives it up; having no experience, he fires it, accidentally killing the mule belonging to his boss. The truth comes out, but Dave is too immature to take responsibility for what he has done.

The most important element of fiction in the story is the character of Dave.  It is his preconceived notion that a gun will make him a man this drives the plot; the gun creates the central conflict of the story, and it is symbolic of power (to Dave).

Dave and his family live in a small community. Dave and his family are not slaves: they are getting paid for their work.  There is an easiness in this community: after killing the mule, the punishment Dave is to receive will be harsher at the hands of his father than his boss, who is quite accommodating.

Dave believes the owning a gun will make him a man in the eyes of others.  This premise drives the story's plot.  The conflicts here between Dave, and his parents, the townsfolk and Dave's boss, but each arises because Dave and the gun.  For Dave, the gun is symbolic of power and manhood.

We see the importance of character in the way Dave sees himself,  and this is his problem.  He believes that his age should make him a man; he misses the point, as we do when we are young, that being "grown up" does not occur with a specific birthday, or by possessing a gun...or a car (today), but in assuming the responsibilities of an adult.

And because Dave is still very young in his view of the world, he manipulates his mother to get the money for the gun, does not bring it home to his dad, sneaks in when all are sleeping--and out the next morning before the family awakes--so he can try the gun.  He never thinks about his responsibility of having a weapon that he knows is capable of ending a life.  He is only lucky that he shoot the mule and not a man.

Like a kid, he lies about what happened to avoid punishment; he lies about where the gun is hidden. Even after he gets off easily, he resents the laughter of the adults who witness his foolishness, and it angers him all over again.  He thinks nothing of his responsibility for his actions, and once again, impulsively, without giving thought to his actions or how they will affect his family, he packs up the gun (and nothing else) believing still that the gun--somewhere else--will make him a man that people will respect.

The gun commands fear, not respect, but Dave is too immature to understand this.  He doesn't see that he has any ownership to what makes a man; he is sure that what he has will make him what he wants to be. This is a timeless topic: it's not what we have that makes us who we are: it's what we choose to do with what we have that truly matters.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since James Joyce's The Dubliners was written as a progression from childhood, the development of character is intrinsic to this work.  However, with the short story "Araby," point of view is the most important element in this narrative because all of the conflict takes place in the mind of the narrator. Influenced by the books that he finds in the house from a former tenant, a priest, the boy confuses religious fervor with romance. 

This confusion is evinced in the boy's trip to the market where, as he carries the groceries for his mother, he imagines himself as a knight in search of the "grail" as he weaves his way in and out of the crowd:

I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes.  Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand.

Mangan's sister, the object of the boy's devotion is perceived by him as a substitute for the Virgin Mary:

I pressed the palm of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring, 'O love! O love!' many times. [When one says the rosary, one repeats the Hail Mary prayer ten times for each of the five decades of the rosary.]

Finally, the narrator's romanticism and illusionary point of view collides with the depressing reality of the bazaar which is not exotic, but only a commercialized place to buy things.  The narrator realizes the insignificance of his conversation with Mangan's daughter in which he promised to buy her something, and he leaves the bazaar ashamed and angry.  This epiphany at the bazaar has greatly changed the narrator's point of view.  Expressing his new disillusionment, the narrator declares,

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger. 

Clearly the plot, setting, character, and theme all pivot around the element of point of view in Joyce's "Araby."

bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Setting is most important in this story because the story could not take place in a different kind of setting. The setting itself is indicative of the themes and symbolism in the story. It takes place in the rural south in the early twentieth century primarily on the road leading from Dave's house to Hawkins' large farm.

As a coming-of-age story, the setting represents Dave's feelings of being trapped in a society that won't allow him to become a man. At the end, Dave jumps on the train to escape his limited setting. The racism in the story contributes to Dave's desire to show his peers and his boss that he is a man because they make fun of him and show him no respect. Class conflict in this segregated society makes Dave feel powerless as well. Black farm workers were not paid much for their hard work, and Dave resents the financial control Hawkins has over him.

The gun is the primary symbol in the story because it represents power and respect to Dave. He feels if he has the gun, he can prove his manhood to everyone. However, the gun proves to symbolize the opposite of what Dave thinks it will bring him. Dave ends up feeling even more trapped and indebted to Hawkins. This is when Dave realizes he must escape.



M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this case, out of all the elements (plot, setting, rising action, character, etc) the most important is Paul himself: The main character.

The reason is because the entire Plot is completely interdependent on Paul's personal troubles and the identity crises that he is experiencing as a result of his situation of fantasy versus reality.

Paul is strange to society, the teachers hate him, he has a strange and mysterious smile that freaks people out, he leads a double life, he went insane, he killed himself. All this is substantially possible thanks to the main character, not as much as to his circumstances, nor the setting. The Plot flows with Paul, he has it in his hands. Undoubtedly Paul is the most important element of the story.

Read the study guide:
Paul's Case

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