Richard Wright

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How does masculinity function in Richard Wright's "The Man Who Was Almost a Man"?

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Masculinity is at the heart of "The Man Who Was Almost a Man," a short story by Langston Hughes. Dave Saunders, the story's main character, believes that owning a gun will make him a man.

Dave works plowing fields for Mr. Hawkins. Though he is performing hard manual labor, his parents treat him like a child. For example, Hawkins pays Dave's wages to his mother. This means that he has to gain her approval if he wants to spend his money.

Dave, believing gun ownership will make him a man, talks his mother into giving him some of the money to buy a gun from Joe at the community's store. He apparently has little experience with guns; in fact, he shoots Mr. Hawkins's mule the first time he fires the weapon. Though the shooting is accidental, his parents and the other men berate and belittle him for the act. He is publicly shamed because of the very thing he believed would mark him as a man in the eyes of his family and community. Mr. Hawkins agrees to withhold two dollars a month from Dave's pay to reimburse Hawkins for the mule.

After the incident, Dave ponders the situation. He is angry that he will have to repay Hawkins, but he is even more angry about the ridicule he has been subjected to: "Something hot seemed to turn over inside him each time he remembered how they had laughed."

Dave decides to leave town, believing others will never view him as a man. As he hops aboard a train to flee the town, he checks to make sure the gun is still in his pocket. Dave mistakenly believes that the gun is a symbol of masculinity, never realizing that facing the consequences of his actions is the only way to become a man in the eyes of others. Instead, he thinks he must travel somewhere else, "somewhere where he could be a man."

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