Richard Wright’s “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” doesn’t explicitly deal with race, but as with all of Wright’s work, it is important to view Dave’s story through the lens of a racial experience.
Dave feels impotent in his life. At seventeen, he is still treated like a child everywhere he goes: by Mr. Hawkins, his parents, his coworkers, even Joe. His fellow field hands tease him at work, which prompts him to pursue buying a gun so that people will take him seriously as a man.
His treatment, which he perceives as inferior, stems in part from his identity as a young black man. Throughout history, particularly in the South, young black men are the most stereotyped and discriminated group. Mr. Hawkins, as the presumably white land owner for whom Dave works, represents the systems of oppression that black people face. Dave’s hostility toward Mr. Hawkins, as evidenced by his desire to fire the gun toward Hawkins’ house before boarding the train, represents his desire to rebel against this system.
Feeling like he is treated with no respect, Dave seeks power through gun ownership or violence. This is indicative of the internal and external struggles young black men face in a society that does not treat them with basic human dignity.
While Wright never discusses the racism that Dave faces from authority figures like Mr. Hawkins, its implicit impact resounds. Forced to work a low-wage, strenuous job for money to which his access is restricted, Dave is pushed over the edge when Hawkins informs him he must pay $50 for the accidental death of Jenny, the mule. When Dave decides to escape, this shows that what he really desires is freedom from the restrictive circumstances of his life—which are caused, in part, by a racist society.