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1 In “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”, the protagonist Dave, narrates his own recount of events leading up to his leaving his home and family behind. His conflict that he faced was becoming a man. After he ran away, the prophecy of the title comes to fruition, except for the fact that he was, “the BOY who was almost a man.” The idea that protagonists have an assortment of options they consciously think to choose from throughout the duration of the story, at the very least, is mildly incorrect. The majority of actions taken by the majority of protagonists as far as resolving a conflict go are taken because they are the best looking option at the time the opportunity presents itself. Very rarely does a protagonist who is in trouble step back and think about his different options, at least from what the text tells us. We as readers, infer that the protagonist gave a previously made decision some thought, but more often than not, we are not made aware of different options or courses of action that the protagonist had in front of him. We infer this only as the result of knowing that the author spent unknown hours thinking, plotting and rewriting decisions made by the protagonist to make the story complete. The first place we see the conflict inside of Dave on how to become a man, was before he thought about getting the catalog to look at guns and before he thought about practicing shooting to earn respect. The first place conflict is presented, it is hidden, dating back to before we meet Dave walking through the field towards home in a huff.
He says to himself that he isn’t scared of them, even if they are bigger than him (1609). Talking about the “niggers” he works with. His attitude from the get-go is one of inferiority, derived undoubtedly from his height! Listen to what he says, “even if they are bigger than me…” This doesn’t have to be a Napoleonic type of complex, but I know for myself that when all my friends were taller than me it drove me crazy, and as a result, I was constantly trying to prove myself in as many ways as I could to gain some form of respect. This mentality is obviously somewhere in the back of Dave’s mind, and even possibly at the root of his feelings of inadequacy. Yes I know I shouldn’t draw from personal experience to support my point, but this feeling of inadequacy laced into the text was just too obvious to me. The underlying theme with Dave is his chronic unhappiness. He expresses pride, elation, fear and other emotions as well, but the un-seen mood and the feeling that Richard Wright makes Dave give off, is that he is not happy with himself. Everyone who hears this will of course argue, “No teenagers are ever happy with themselves”, but I do not presume to patronize Dave in this way. Let’s assume that Dave is like every other teenager, and that is why he is unhappy. Would he really be such a hard worker for his boss Mr. Hawkins if he was a typical teenager? He states very clearly that, “Ah plows mo lan than anybody over there.”(1611) Would he ever show up early for work if he was a typical teenager?(1613) Yes, he did have ulterior motives for going to work early on that day, but he responded to Mr. Hawkins as if he was always up early and at work at that time of morning. I do not think Dave is meant to be taken as lightly as just an average teenager. I think he is a hard worker, and while still having the attitude of a boy,
as well as not knowing what it really means to be a man, I believe that he should be able to generate a small amount of happiness for himself. What it really means to be a man… We covered this superficially in class discussion, but the issue was not resolved. The strange variable this story has, is that it is “hard and deep, without the consolation of tears” in that we never really see the father, other than in the disciplinarian role with the beating of punishment and the talk over the dinner table telling Dave to keep his mind on his work. Bob, his father, never really takes time out, at least during this story, to bestow knowledge or wisdom upon his son. He never acts in a way to suggest he has invested time into teaching his boy how to be a man. He sees his son as still a young boy who needs discipline more than he needs to start thinking for himself and make good decisions. As a result of this attitude by the father, the son has the mentality of a youth with the one-track-mind, as opposed to a mature male, a man, who would weigh his options, visualize outcomes and choose the best not only for himself, but for his family. Bob’s attitude toward Dave results in Dave’s decision making process, which in turn ultimately plays a large part in the less-thanperfect resolution to the conflict. The main problem that I have with the prompt as it pertains to the story is this: I do not agree that Dave thought out his decisions as he made them. He bounced from bad to worse much like Bigger Thomas did in Wright’s most famous work, Native Son. It was a series of unfortunate events mostly caused by unfortunate decisions, which seemed unfortunate because of their sudden and impulsive nature. There is a well known stereotype about teenage boys. The stereotype is that they have a one-track-mind, when they want something, they do not rest until they have it. For Dave, it was having and
firing a gun. That was his goal until he accomplished it. His decisions and thought process as it was narrated to us from his point of view, suggested that he was only making decisions and taking action in the direction of what he thought should be done for him to get a gun, and then to keep it, and then to fire it. There was a backwards stream of consciousness that had the result first. To get a gun for himself, he would have to buy it, to buy it would take money, he had money, but he had to get it from his ma, he would have to find a gun, so he would need a catalog… and then action. There is no playing out of different scenarios in Dave’s head, like, what if ma won’t give me the money? Or, what if the gun ol’ Joe sells me doesn’t work properly because it is used? He doesn’t make a sound decision and it points toward not working through available responses. There were many other ways he could have handled all these situations better and he probably would have been able to resolve the conflict in a way that would have been easier on him. Throughout the story, Dave changes faces. He does not change who he is, nor does he grow up and draw closer to manhood, as the conflict would suggest that he should. Dave at the beginning was, as mentioned earlier, out to prove himself a man, mostly because of his inferiority complex. This complex most often comes from a severe lack of affirmation from a paternal figure, whether a father, boss, step-father or any type of male mentor. During the time that he has the gun, he draws his security and a new feeling of self-worth from having the gun. This is why he does not bring the gun straight back to his ma, and why he hides it under his clothes when he goes to work. He does not want to lose his sense of self by giving up the gun. While firing the gun, he is really discovering himself and testing and exploring his security and self-worth. After he shoots
Jenny the mule by accident, he sees himself as a failure and goes into panic, totally unsure of how to handle himself in a situation like this. Dave does not have the principles to stand up and “take it like a man” and go on with his life. Instead, he tries to lie about what really happened, and effectively blames Jenny for her own death. He is found out and now the consequences are just as bad, if not worse than they would have been, only now, everyone is laughing at him and regards him as a child who fibbed to try and get out of trouble. Lastly, he cannot even own up to his own punishment that he earned himself with his series of bad decisions. He commits the ultimate in childish acts, by running away from his problems, instead of facing them. With all this being said, the resolution to the story is that Dave actually escaped all he was trying to run from. The resolution does not solve the conflict exactly, but Dave running away was an indirect result of his struggle to become a man. His struggle started with his mindset of having to prove himself as a man, and identified owning a deadly weapon as a characteristic of manhood, a characteristic that Dave could accomplish in the shortest amount of time. He owns the weapon, but that is all. He will be hard pressed to learn in the future that he cannot run away from his problems if he wants to be a real man.
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