(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Man Who Was Almost a Man” is an initiation story, a tale of a teenage youth struggling to break free of childhood and enter the world of adulthood. Frustrated by being young, poor, and black, David Glover wrestles with the tension of wanting to be an adult yet being viewed as a child by the adult community. In David’s case, the action that he takes to acquire manhood merely reinforces his elders’ beliefs that he is still an adolescent.

When the story opens, David is thinking about his quest for manhood, which he connects with owning a gun. Because he is “almos a man,” he believes that he should own the symbol of manhood: a gun. Borrowing a mail-order catalog from a local store owner so that he can look at the pictures of revolvers, David becomes obsessed with thoughts of guns, becoming a man, and, most important, the strategy that he must use to persuade his mother that he should be able to buy a gun.

Employing all the typical maneuvers of a child who knows how to manipulate his mother—David knows that he should work on her and not his father—he begins by slipping his arm around her waist and telling her how much he loves her. These strategies break down her initial resistance to the idea, and when David proposes that the gun be given to his father, she relents, telling the boy that he may purchase the gun but that he must bring it back immediately and give it to her to turn over to Mr. Glover.

Elated with his victory, David buys the gun for two dollars but delays his return home until after dark and after the family is in bed. That way he is able to keep the gun, put it under his pillow that night, and take it with him when he leaves to work on Jim Hawkins’s plantation early the next morning. He arrives at work, hitches the mule, Jenny, to a plow, and starts across the fields, delighted that he will be able to get far enough...

(The entire section is 769 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

The story opens as Dave, the seventeen-year-old protagonist, heads home from a day working in the fields. He fantasizes about buying a gun...

(The entire section is 583 words.)